compiled by Vern Larkin Click here to return to the previous page.
Hunting Fossils in Upstate New York
is fun and rewarding-- if you know where to look.

First, remember that the fossil record was almost completely scrubbed away by the advance and retreat of huge glaciers, which wore the soil and bedrock down to layers 350 million years old. This age, the Silurian/ Devonian, saw New York covered by the vast Potsdam Sea, domin- ated by trilobites and bivalves. People hiking or driving through Upstate New York will often encounter shale out- crops (the fossilized mud of the Potsdam Sea bottom). Dig a little! You never know what you'll find.

1) 18 Mile Creek 4) Rt. 36 South of Genesseo, North of Leicester
2) New Guinea Rd. Gravel Pit (Orleans Co.) 5) Byron mastodon site (holocene)
3) Middleport dalmanites (trilobite) site 6) Munger Road
1) 18 Mile Creek
How to Get There: Thruway South to Blaisdell Exit, Mile Line Rd to Lakeshore Rd, Lakeshore west to bridge; hike north along creek to lakeside cliffs (shale)
What You'll Find: One of the world's best deposits of Silurian invertebrates: plenty of bivalves (mucrospirifers, brachiopods, and especially atrypa, which can be cleaned to jewel-like beauty), horned coral, fragments of trilobites and occasional complete specimens (usually phacops), some unusual specimines.
2) New Guinea Road Gravel Pit
How to Get There: Route 31 east to Holley (Orleans County); South on Rt. 237 about 7 miles to New Guinea Road; West (right turn) on New Guinea past Upper Holley Rd. to Gravel pit on north side at top of hill.
What You'll Find:In the bedrock are found occasional bivalves and fragments of horned coral. Immediately above are found sand deposits left behind from the shore of post-glacial Lake Tonawanda, which may contain traces of animals less than 11,000 years old.
3) Middleport
How to Get There: Ah, here's the rub. Nobody will tell exactly where it is. Probably north of Medina, just south of Lake Ontario.
What You'll Find: Dalmanites, beautifully-preserved trilobites with well-developed cheek structures, often reach lengths of four inches and sell for over $100. This explains the secrecy.
4) Route 36, south of Genesseo
How to Get There: From the Village of Genesseo, take Route 36 south toward Leicester ("Lester"). About 4 miles south of town, look for a small bridge over a stream. Follow the stream through cow pastures to a glen containing two waterfalls, which cut through layers of shale. Lovely picnic site.
What You'll Find: The usual assortment of horned coral and mucrospirifers, few trilobites, some crinoid stem fragments. Horned coral are apt to be larger than found elsewhere.
5) Byron mastodon site
How to Get There: Again, the site, on private property, is officially secret. It lies between Batavia and Byron just below the Genessee/Orleans County line. You can, however, join the official dig sponsored by the Buffalo Museum of Natural History by contacting Dr. Lamb.
What You'll Find: When the last of the glaciers retreated 11,000 years ago, large animals moved in to exploit the new ecological niche. Among these were the huge pachyderms hunted to extinction by early Upstate hunters.
6) Munger Road
How to Get There: Route 31A to Clarendon (Orleans County); south on Route 237 about four miles; Munger Road is a left turn. Look for a collapsed barn on the south side of the road, and a stream 1/8 mile east.
What You'll Find: Located just above the county line, the wetlands and woodlands are an extension of the Bergen Swamp, and are treacherous in rainy seasons. The stream cuts through layers of holocene mud in which fragments of mammal fossils are sometimes found. Also found are numerous skulls of modern species. NOTE: The owners of the land request that you inform them of all finds.

Dealing with Landowners

Amateur paleontology combines the best aspects of detective work, ecology and applied psychology. It's always best, when you can determine who the owner of a site is, to approach that person before you start digging and ask permission; otherwise, you run the risk of having the owner visit you during your activities and kicking you off his land. It often helps to have brought with you a separate garbage bag to be filled with trash that other, less conscientious visitors have left behind. Sites like 18 Mile Creek are beginning to look "trashed out" and we should all pitch in to reverse that. Explaining your activities to a hostile landowner may help put him back on your side. Always leave a site cleaner than you found it.

And, above all else, safety first. Again, 18-mile Creek is a good example-- it's easy to clambor up those shale slopes looking for a prize and not realize how far off the ground you really are. Collecting at sites like Letchworth Park can take you off the beaten track into dangerous terrain, with potentially fatal results. Keep safe. Collect fossils; don't become one.