Trilobite Day Trip

A great thing about kids is they provide an excuse to read a book aloud, make popsicles, spend an afternoon skipping rocks, or hike up a random mountainside to look for fossils. So when Ben—a fountain of knowledge about remote and little-known Utah attractions—recently posted about visiting a trilobite-bearing outcrop of Spence shale in the Bear River mountains, I knew what our next family road trip would be.

The Bear River Range is one of the 50 or so mountain ranges in Utah where I’ve never spent much time; it sits to the east of Logan, which is itself about a 1.5 hour drive from Salt Lake City. The Spence shale outcrops are a half-hour hike up a ridge, starting from the end of the High Creek road, a popular trailhead and camping area. No trails go up the ridge, but it’s easy (if steep) cross-country travel.

Looking for fossils can be frustrating but that was not at all the case here; there were tons of trilobites, though mostly fragments or pretty small ones. We’ve been fossil hunting enough times now to have a bit of an idea how to go about it. The basic process is to find a piece of rock and split it along natural fracture lines into thin pieces. Then, inspect the newly exposed surfaces and repeat. There is no way to do this without getting extremely dirty. Sunglasses are necessary since rock chips always head directly for the eyes, and gloves are good too. I have a regular mason’s hammer but it’s pretty sharp so I found some small ball-peen hammers for the kids to use.

Overall this was a great day outing. It’s a little awe-inspiring¬†to unearth creatures that last saw the light half a billion years ago.

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