FOSSIL Features: Penn Dixie Fossil Park with Nathan Newell

Visiting Penn Dixie Fossil Park

by @nathan-newell

 

My family and I vacationed at Niagara Falls last summer (2019), and whenever I go on vacation I like to snoop around Google for paleontology-related attractions. I was excited to discover that the Penn Dixie Fossil Park (https://penndixie.org/) was only a 40-minute drive from Niagara on the New York side. Fortunately, I found the site a few months ahead of the trip so I had enough time to convince my wife to take a day away from the spectacular falls to grub around in the dirt. 

 

Penn Dixie is a nature preserve in Blasdell, NY, a few minutes south of Buffalo. It’s a Devonian site from the Moscow Formation, a former quarry that’s been dedicated to fossil hunting. The Penn Dixie website boasts of brachiopods, horn corals, crinoids, and most excitingly for me, trilobites! There are so many fossils here that they literally bulldoze a layer every once in a while to freshen the fossil piles. This seemed ridiculous to me, considering fossil hunting in the Virginias consists of me schlepping around road cuts having rare “wow” moments whenever I happen upon random trilobite pieces. And finding cephalons (heads) with eyes is even more difficult.

 

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When we got there, a guide gave us a very interesting tour with plenty of good tips, which unfortunately, I couldn’t pay much attention to since I was in such close proximity to trilobites just waiting to be found! I got to work as soon as I could, pinballing from this pile to that, looking for the coolest trilobites possible. I didn’t see any museum-quality specimens but I did see lots of pygidiums (tails), thoraxes, and even cephalons with eyes! There were even a good deal of brachiopods and horn corals. Every once in a while, I’ll call back to my wife and kids, exclaiming how great the fossils collecting here was. This is nothing like normal fossil collecting, so don’t get spoiled! 

 

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Meanwhile, they had just plopped down at a random spot and sifted through rubble nearby. But hey, not everybody can be a paleo-pro like me, right? After about 15 minutes of me sprinting from pile to pile, I sprang back to my wife to show her the goods. She held something up. “Is this a good one?” It was; in fact, it was much nicer than any brachiopod I have ever found. My kids had similar luck, finding some amazing specimens, many of them better than mine. Thus, I learned an important lesson: whenever I go to a fossil site now, I try to just “plop down at a random spot” for a while and see what I find before I start scurrying around.

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Overall, I had great luck finding specimens that are really spectacular, at least compared to what I usually find. If you scroll through my fossil specimens from Blasdell, NY, you will see my specimens from Penn Dixie. And I was sure to give credit where due!

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If mFeM 60191 turns out to be a new species or variety somehow, I’ll name it after my wife. She earned it!

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