Science Education Center of California

Science Education Center
of California
3001 Chapel Hill Road
Orange, CA 92867

Science Education Center of California

Field Trips & Vacations

The Summer Fossil Expedition is an 8-day, 2,000-mile adventure combining science, travel and natural history all in one. Trip Date: TBA

We offer 8 days of stress-free travel through 5 states that includes some of the finest wonders of the natural world and an opportunity to add to your collection of natural history specimens. Our trip provides an opportunity to see Zion National Park and various geological formations. The collection of fish fossils at a private quarry in Wyoming’s Green River Formation is an added bonus.

Your science adventure starts with a phone call (714) 292-6845 or an email at Our friendly staff will answer any and all questions. All expeditions are led by Dan Krawitz who is the president and chief curator of the Science Education Center of California.

On this page:

Your $595 Educational Package Includes

  • The Science Education Center will provide an eight day guided tour for all trip participants. The travel distance is approximately 2,000 miles and traverses some of the finest scenery in California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and Wyoming. A detailed summary of our stops during the summer tour is outlined in the section titled “Our Summer Adventure, Day by Day.”

  • All entrance fees to national parks, monuments, museums, and other localities that charge an entrance fee will be paid by the Science Education Center.

  • A guided tour is provided at all times and includes physical and life science curriculum for all students and educators.

  • All fossil collecting fees at privately owned quarries in Utah and Wyoming are included in your trip fee. This includes the salary for our guide, unlimited collection of fish fossils and trilobites at the quarries, and 5 free fish fossils from the “partial pile” at the quarry. Nobody will go away empty handed. (Please see the section titled “Guidelines For Fossil Collection” for a complete summary of the privileges that we have secured as a result of our close working relationship with the people who have a lease on the quarry.)

  • All materials for educational lessons will be provided. This includes thermometers, barometers, calculators, science handouts, daily lessons, and a pair of high-powered binoculars (20 x 80).

  • All equipment for passengers will be provided as well. This includes goggles, collecting tools, and packaging material to protect collected fossil material.

  • The cost of meals and lodging are not included in your tour package.

Dining Options: There are many options for fine dining during our trip. Most restaurants have good, hearty meals for about $10. The Science Education Center will also make one stop each day at a grocery store to pick up food as requested by our passengers. As a result, the healthiest foods for the best price will be available.

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Our Summer Adventure, Day by Day

Day One

  • Our first stop will be at the desert information center in Barstow, California. The 5,000-pound Old Woman Springs Meteorite is on display along with educational exhibits on local geology and flora of the region.

  • The Calico Ghost Town and Early Man Archaeological Site are both located off Interstate 15 and about 10 miles north of the desert information center. The archaeological site is an excavation begun by Dr. Louis Leakey in 1964, and is one of the oldest prehistoric tool sites discovered in the Western Hemisphere. The ghost town is a restored silver mining town from the 1880’s. We will visit both (weather permitting). We should note that these sites can get quite hot in the summer and may be visited during the cooler hours of the day on the way back from our 8-day adventure.

  • Our drive through the Mojave National Preserve will take us to some of the highest elevations of the Mojave Desert.

  • We will spend the night at a motel in Mesquite, Nevada.

Day Two

  • Drive to Zion National Park.

  • Activities include the following:

    1. Zion Canyon Visitor Center (Educational activities)

    2. Board shuttle for Zion Canyon Scenic Drive

    3. 10-mile drive along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway:

      1. Steep drive up switchbacks and through tunnels to Checkerboard Mesa.
    4. Kolob Canyons:

      1. 5 miles. Scenic drive skirting the Kolob “Finger Canyons”
    5. Riverside Walk:

      1. Easy walk (1 mile) along the Virgin River.
    6. Explore the Temple of Sinawava and associated geological features.

Days Three and Four

  • Once back on Interstate 15, we will progress to Evanston, Wyoming, which is the jumping off point for our major dig and exploration into the high country of Wyoming.

  • On our way to Evanston we will visit Delta, Utah, for the purchase of trilobites and Kennecott Utah's Bingham Canyon Mine. The road to Bingham Canyon is a gradual grade that takes us up 2,000 feet for a panoramic view of the surrounding desert and the open pit mine of Kennecott Utah Copper Corporation’s Bingham Canyon Mine. Nearly 320,000 tons a year of the nation’s copper comes from the open pit mine, and the terraced pit that produces the ore is one of the largest in the world. The site contains a visitor center with educational exhibits and a videotape presentation explaining how copper is produced and used in our daily lives.

  • We will stay in a motel near Delta, Utah.

Day Five and Six

  • We will spend a few hours at the trilobite dig site west of Delta, Utah.

  • Our two-hour scenic drive to a commercial quarry at Fossil Lake will pass through the coal-mining town of Kemmerer, and provides a spectacular vista of the High Uintas to the south. This trek will take us to Fossil Basin, once occupied by prehistoric Fossil Lake (50-54 million years ago). The last 10 miles will be on a graded dirt road, which will take us to the quarry at the top of the hill.

  • Most of the day will be spent at the fossil quarry (Elevation 7,300 feet) and will include an orientation from our guide as well as procedures and guidelines on fossil collecting (see guidelines for fossil collection).

  • We will try to capture the sunset on our return journey to the motel in Evanston. If time permits we may travel a few miles south of Evanston, Wyoming, (towards Mirror Lake Summit) for some nighttime astronomical viewing. At 10,200 feet, Mirror Lake Summit has some of the darkest skies in the country.

Day Seven

  • Our second excursion from Evanston, Wyoming, will be to Fossil Butte National Monument. The location is about 60 miles northeast of Evanston, Wyoming. The visitor center is open every day except winter holidays. The museum that we will explore has exhibits, displays of fossils, and an artist's re-creation of what this area may have looked like in the time of ancient Fossil Lake (50 million years ago). Books and brochures are available, and park rangers can help plan our visit. A schedule of events, including guided walks, is posted.

  • We will spend the night in Evanston, Wyoming.

Day Eight

  • The drive back to Primm, Nevada, will take us south along Interstate 15 and through cities such as Provo, Nephi, Fillmore, Beaver, Cedar City, and St. George. As we drive south through Joab valley we will see Mt. Nebo to the east and other peaks of the Uinta National Forest. The remaining drive south will pass within a few miles of several peaks whose elevation exceeds 10,000 feet.

  • The drive through the Virgin River George cuts through some of the most interesting sedimentary rock of the trip. Some of the folding and faulting of the region can be seen along the side of the gorge. This portion of the trip takes us through the northwestern extremity of Arizona and into southern Nevada.

  • We will stay in one of the larger motels in Mesquite or Primm Nevada.

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Fossil Dig Background

Geologic History of the Wyoming Fossils

Between 50 and 54 million years ago the region that now occupies Southwestern Wyoming and Northeastern Utah was neither cold nor arid. Both the fauna (crocodiles, alligators, boa constrictors and a few subtropical fish families) and the flora (such as large palm trees and balloon vines) indicate warm temperate to subtropical conditions. Based on the fossil record, Bradley (1929; 1948), MacGinitie (1969) and others (Roland Brown, E.W. Berry and F.H Knowlton, in various papers) have concluded that the climate of most of the area was similar to the present climate of the Gulf coast and southern Atlantic regions of the United States: subtropical with an annual rainfall of 30 to 40 inches and with essentially frost-free winters. The average annual minimum temperature was over 36 degrees and the overall average annual temperate was around 60 to 70 degrees.

The fossil-bearing area that we have access to is located on private land (fossil lake deposit), just west of Kemmerer Wyoming. The site is at an elevation of 7,300 feet and the 100+ mile visibility provides a panoramic view of the ice clad High Uintas of Northern Utah.

Source: Grande, L., 1984. Paleontology of the Green River Formation, With a Review of the Fish Fauna, Bulletin 63, Wyoming State Geological Survey, pp. 3.

Fossil Creation in the Green River Formation of Wyoming

The sedimentary rocks that house or entomb the fish of the Green River Formation are composed of almost pure calcite. Mineralogically, the sedimentary deposit is a micrite or fine-grained limestone that formed (50 – 54 million years ago) in a lake saturated with both calcium and carbonate ions. During mass extinction episodes and standard deaths, the fish settled onto the lake bottoms and became rapidly buried by the fine-grained lake deposits. Over time, the soft body tissue chemically broke down and lost its volatile compounds. The remaining material became richer and richer in carbon until only a thin layer of almost pure carbon remained. The carbon coated the bones, teeth and other calcium rich portions of the organisms that became imbedded in chemical equilibrium within the sediment. The resulting fossils possibly contain the best paleontological record of Tertiary aquatic communities in the world.

Guidelines for Fossil Collection

We will be collecting on private land that has produced many fine fossils over several years, and many museum specimens.  This is a fee-based dig area and these fees will be paid by the Science Education Center of California and are included in your trip payment. Our guide, together with the Science Education Center has produced the following guidelines on fossil collection at the quarry. These guidelines are designed to make your collecting a safe and rewarding experience.

These guidelines are the following:

  1. Prior to collecting, all participants will go through an orientation that will include procedures on:

    1. how to break open the limestone blocks to maximize fossil recovery.
    2. how to chip away at sedimentary portions to minimize damage to surrounding fossil-bearing material.
  2. Each participant will wear goggles at all times. While the soft sediment does not spark or give off any sharp pieces of rock, we still want to make sure that nothing can go wrong.

  3. The quarry is broken down into claims. As a result, we will be collecting in designated areas that will be specified by our guide.

  4. Most fossils in the quarry are various species of fish. You can keep all of your fossil finds that are not rare. Large fish (greater than 8 inches), crayfish, shrimp, stingrays, birds, bats, and amphibians are defined by our quarry operator as rare. Any rare finds can be purchased from our guide at a wholesale price. If you uncover a rare find and choose not to make a purchase, the specimen will become the property of our guide who is leasing the portion of the quarry that we will be collecting on.

  5. You can collect for the entire day that we are there. There is also a “partial pile” of fossils. These fossils have already been dug up and have been damaged to some extent. They may be fish that are missing a fin or a head, etc. and are sold as is to companies that resell them to the public. You can keep 5 fish fossils from this pile. Since some of these specimens are better than others, you may want to go to the partial pile of recovered fossils first and do your initial collecting. This will also give you an opportunity to see how the fossils are preserved and how they have been collected.

  6. You may want to “trim” your fossils so that the non-fossil portion is chipped away, leaving a smaller and more valuable specimen (that is lighter as well) behind.

  7. The quarry is located at the top of a hill at an elevation of 7,300. While this is only about 800 feet higher than the city of Evanston, Wyoming, it still is rather high up. We encourage participants to walk slowly and not over exert themselves. The quarry location is flat and the vehicle takes you right into the quarry.

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