Fossil Butte National Monument is a fossil hunter’s dream spot. Thousands of marine and land fossils have been found in this region, which was a vast, shallow sea 40 million years ago. Fossil Butte National Monument became established as a national monument in 1972, granting it protection from oil and mining companies.
The Fossil Butte National Monument Visitor Center has on display several examples of fossils found in the area, which includes crocodiles, fish, turtles, and bats.
The closest town is Kemmerer, WY, which is about 15 miles to the east. The small town of about 3,000 residents has a handful of stores and fossil shops, restaurants, and a medical center. Kemmerer is best known as the birthplace of J.C Penney, and the original storefront is still operating in the downtown area. The home of the founder, J.C. Penney, is also in town, and it is open to visitors. Start planning the ultimate fossil-hunting and RV camping trip with a search for an RV in Lincoln County, WY
Categorized as a “high, cold desert,” this far northwestern corner of Wyoming is dry and arid. Winds seem to blow nonstop as if the desert itself was breathing. Much of the dry, sandy soil is covered by sagebrush and other drought-hardy native plants. Along the bottom of buttes and mesas that rise from the plains, straggly scrub oaks cluster, drinking up every drop of water that rolls down the slopes.
There are four miles of maintained trails for hikers to enjoy. The adventurous hikers can also take a dirt road to trailheads where they can tackle an additional seven miles of unmaintained trails. The maintained trails lead to past paleontological digs where various fossils were found, and interpretative signs indicate the area’s history, fossil species, and information about the Cretaceous era. Although most of the obvious fossil finds have been excavated, experts believe that there are far more discoveries waiting within the heart of the buttes.
Photographers and nature lovers will enjoy this dramatic, windswept desert. Herds of pronghorns and mule deer roam the rough terrain. In winter and early spring, moose and elks sometimes emerge from the mountains to the west in search of food and water. After the spring snowmelt occurs, the arid desert transforms from a muted, leathery tan to soft, mossy green as wild grass, oaks, and sagebrush are revitalized by an influx of water, though scarce. Though it’s a rare event, after an especially wet winter, the region has been known to experience a “super bloom,” an event in which rare, fragile flowers blossom for a few days. After a week or so, as the snowmelt evaporates, the desert returns to its familiar sandy brown appearance.
Hikers and outdoor adventurer, take note. Hats, extra water, and sunscreen are recommended year-round. Fossil Butte National Monument is one of the few national parks that allow leashed dogs on trails. Dog owners should bring extra water for their pets, as well.
Because Fossil Butte National Monument is a federally-run monument park, any fossil or rock finds must be reported and turned over to the authorities. However, American Fossil (also known as FishDig) operates out of a former quarry close by. All rockhounds and fossil hunters may keep their finds.
Camping at Fossil Butte National Monument
Skip the long commute from dingy hotels and wake up in an RV rental surrounded by nature. Witness the rising sun light up the distant mesas and buttes with warm pinks, reds, and gold. Listen to the sound of the wind blowing softly over the sandy plains. Although RV camping at Fossil Butte National Monument isn’t possible because there are no campgrounds, the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service have several hundred acres of land surrounding this park. One only needs to find a good, flat clearing to park a camper rental.
When amenities are desired, the towns of Kemmerer and nearby Diamondville, WY, have a couple of RV parks that may suit your needs. Both facilities are small and quiet, and they offer full or partial hookups. However, there are no restrooms for campers.
In a pinch, the Flying J Travel Center in Cokeville, WY, may meet some travelers’ needs. Though there are no hookups, the truck stop has WiFi, showers, restrooms, and laundry facilities.
Exploring the Area
In wild west Wyoming, towns are few and far in between. Stick your left arm out the window and pull up your favorite tunes on the radio, and enjoy the ride over the long, flat desert plains in a motorhome rental. Many small towns maintain museums and historical landmarks that documents their founding and their formative years. Kemmerer is no exception. The Fossil Country Frontier Museum has on display a wide variety of tools, documents, maps, and other artifacts from the wild west era.
In a matter of minutes, zip across the state borders of Wyoming-Utah and Utah-Idaho, and head up to Montpelier, ID. Montpelier, among many things, is well-known for being a popular stop for the pioneers on their long, arduous wagon-train journey to Oregon and California. The National Oregon/California Trail Center. Indeed, the original tracks from thousands of wagon wheels have been etched deep into the earth and are still visible today. The center illustrates the hardships the pioneers endured in the name of making a better life for themselves. Many original tools, equipment, clothing, and other artifacts are on display. Also in town is the Butch Cassidy Museum. The museum is housed inside the only still-standing bank that Cassidy robbed.
While traveling the long miles in a rental RV, take a moment to contemplate the momentous significance of this raw, seemingly bare landscape. Once, dinosaurs roamed an ancient sea. Centuries of Native American tribes eked out a living. Pioneers struggled to tame the harsh wilderness. Far from the city lights, stars in the night sky blaze brightly.