Last Thursday I had the opportunity to chaperone my son’s class field trip to the Fossil Discovery Center in Chowchilla, CA. I’d heard of this place a number of times previously, but had this idea in my mind of what I thought it’d be like, and wasn’t in a huge rush to visit. I thought it would be a small place with lots of models of fossils – more of a tourist-y experience that appealed to little ones and sought to empty parents’ pockets on souvenirs. I was so, so wrong.
The Fossil Discovery Center is SO very cool. Our tour started in a theater room where we watched a video that explained how the center came about and what we’d be seeing. It explained that the Center was built across the street after fossils were found next to the Madera County landfill, at what is called the Fairmead Dig Site. Thousands of fossils have now been unearthed from Fairmead (and expect to continue to be found for decades) and through the study of these fossils, it was determined that there had been a watering hole that attracted all kinds of species to the area. There were saber-toothed cats, a flat-faced bear who stood over 12 feet tall and could likely run at speeds of 40 miles per hour, a large wolf called the “dire wolf” and even camels – which apparently originated right here in the Central Valley and later spread to other parts of the world (who knew!? not me!).
After the video, we began our tour of the center checked out a huge Columbian Mammoth skeleton. Turns out they were even larger than Wooly Mammoths!
We also got to see saber tooth cat skulls and compare their teeth to other animals.
The awesome fossil displays continued into two other large rooms in the center. There were so many creatures to check out, some set up as full size skeletons. We also got to see a mammoth bone that was still being carefully removed from the ground that had been surrounding it.
Outside the center, we toured a (replicated) Yokut Indian hut and shade structure as well as a watering hole created to simulate the one that once was present at Fairmead. Our tour ended with all of the students having the opportunity to experience what it’s like to dig up a fossil at a large model dig site complete with real tools and markers.
My son and his classmates had such a great time at the Fossil Discovery Center, and us grown ups all seemed to as well – we kept commenting to each other about things we had never known prior to our visit and how surprising some of the facts were.
I highly recommend taking your family or class to the Fossil Discovery Center soon! Located at 19450 Avenue 21 1/2, it’s just a short 30 minute drive from Fresno. Currently the Center is operating on Winter hours, so it is open Wednesday through Saturday from 9 to 4 and Sundays from 11 – 4. Tuesdays are available in Spring and Summer. The cost of admission is $8 for adults, $4 for students and $6 for seniors. Children 3 and under are free. For more information visit the Fossil Discovery Center or call (559) 665-7107.
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