I had to go to FLA for a short business trip but had a half (OK - 3/4) day available for some "me time". In every instance in my past life, that would have meant go fishing. Well - not this time. And, for once in my life, I made a good decision. On Tuesday there were record lows throughout FLA, and I have NEVER had good fishing there on cold post-front days. But the fossils don't really mind a change in conditions. Maybe when they were killed by the Ice Age or some catastrophic event 20 million years ago, but not now. So, it was off to the Peace River for a day of digging for fossils.
Before the trip, I did my usual research and came upon Mark Renz' Fossil Expeditions on the Peace River. His website sold me, and a little more research on Fossil Forum confirmed that Mark was held in high esteem by all those fortunate enough to have met and dealt with him.
Well, in person, he's even better.
Mark went over the fossils we might encounter at our meeting place in Arcadia. We did a kayak trip, where I learned that I like going downstream, but don't like coming back upstream, even in the gentle Peace River current. We tied up near a gravel area and started digging and sifting. There were 5 people on this trip - 2 other couples, and me. Absolutely great people to spend a day with.
The results of the dig were somewhat along the lines of what I expected - a TON of bone material, a fair number of smaller pieces of various teeth, and lots of rock and unidentifiable "junk". The crown jewel of the area is , of course, the giant Megalodon shark teeth. Our group had one couple find a Meg tooth and 2 Meg tooth halves, while I found a couple of fragments of Meg teeth. The other couple found a few pieces as well. That' s NOT to say I didn't find anything good - I did! My best find was a fossilized Tapir tooth, followed by some fish tooth/jaw pieces, 2 croc / gator teeth, my Meg pieces, a softshell turtle shell piece, another turtle piece, a bunch of smaller sharks teeth, a possible echinoid, and a lot of Dugong rib pieces and vertebrae material. The river is full of Dugong pieces. The Dugong we were finding is an extinct relative of the one found in thewaters of the Indo-Pacific, and both are / were related to the Manatee. Every scoopful of sediment held something neat. I absolutely loved it and can't wait to go back, and I will absolutely book Mark again for my next trip to FLA.
Mark (on the right) with fellow fossil diggers
Mark's faithful fossil dog (can't remember his name)
Dugong rib pieces
Tapir tooth - chewing surface
Tapir tooth - root
Fish teeth , jaws
Megalodon tooth fragments
A pretty big, but very worn, tiger shark tooth
Assorted smallish shark teeth
A decent little Hemipristis
Some of the haul on the kayak - gives a better perspective of the size and mass of the Dugong ribs
A few words about the day and the experience: Mark spends the day rotating among the groups digging and sifting. He ID's all your stuff for you if you have questions (and you will!) and is a treasure trove of knowledge and information. He's also a keen observer of the incredible natural surroundings found along the river. We saw a small gator while kayaking in, the usual amazing assortment of birds - herons, hawks, ... Heard a Pileated Woodpecker, and saw a Red Shouldered Hawk attack a Green Heron. He (the hawk) failed in his attempt, by the way. Mark is entertaining and knowledgeable without any feeling of being anything but helpful. A great guy and guide.
However, if you think that you are going to come here and simply walk into the river and scoop out shovels-full of Meg teeth, you are delusional. That doesn't happen anywhere. Are there Meg teeth here? Absolutely. Will you find any? Maybe. It's much the same as hiring a fishing guide - they'll determine where to take you and what method to employ but the end result is always in question. You WILL find fossilized material - it's everywhere. If you want to learn and appreciate the awesome resource, and maybe find some GREAT fossils, but definitely find neat stuff - this is the best money you can spend in FLA. I'll do it again next time I'm there, and hopefully every time after that.
Mark can be reached at http://www.fossilexpeditions.com/ or by phone at 1-239-368-3252