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Geologic Time at our National Parks

Compiled by Stephen Greb

U.S. National Parks preserve areas of scenic and historical wonder. Many also owe their scenery to the rocks exposed in cliffs, waterfalls, and canyons. Those rocks sometimes preserve fossils of ancient life. Information from the parks can be used to interpret and teach about geologic time in North America . The following is a list of National Park web sites in which fossils are found and explained. The list has been arranged by geologic time for use in teaching or class projects involving geologic time. More information is available at the Nature and Science section of the National Park Service website. You can also Explore Geology for links to parks by various topics. Be patient, sometimes the National Park Services websites are slow to open.

Parks with Information Spanning Multiple Eras

Precambrian through Cenozoic

Curecanti National Recreation Area, Colorado : The Black Canyon cuts rock layers from Precambrian to Cenozoic times, and their story is explained at the website. Dinosaurs have recently been found in this area.

Precambrian through Paleozoic

Grand Canyon National Park , Arizona : The online geology field notes provide information about the geologic history of the rocks exposed in the canyon walls, as well as discussions of the Paleozoic to the present.

Paleozoic Era

Permian Period

Carlsbad Caverns National Park , New Mexico : The bedrock in the cave area includes the Permian Capitan reef, an ancient coral reef. Other parts of the website explain the Permian World, surface geology, and cave geology.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park , New Mexico : The bedrock in this park includes the Permian Capitan reef, an ancient coral reef.

Mesozoic Era

Triassic Period

Petrified Forest National Park , Arizona : This park was preserved because of its famous fossil trees. Dinosaurs and crocodile-like phytosaurs have also been found at the park and are described on the paleontology pages. The website provides material on vertebrate and plant fossils, and new scientific publications concerning discoveries at the park. Online geology fieldnotes describes the soils, water, and erosion of the park as well as a brief description of the fossils.

Jurassic Period

Dinosaur National Monument , Utah and Colorado : This park was preserved because it was the site of famous dinosaur excavations. The online field notes describes finds of the dinosaurs include Allosaurus, Brontosaurus, Diplodocus, and Stegosaurus. You can link to the park website, which provides a virtual museum and pictures and history of the quarry.

Cretaceous Period

Big Bend National Park , Texas : Fossils include dinosaurs, the super-croc (crocodile-like) Deinosuchus, and the largest flying reptile Quetzacoatlus. The geology section describes the geology of the park from the Precambrian to today.

Cenozoic Era

Tertiary Period

Eocene Epoch

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument , Website contains information about the fossils and geologic history of the area. The Geology links provides a virtual tour and Paleontology provides tables of fossil vertebrates and plants from the area. An online geology fieldnotes provides descriptions of rock units, fossils, and photographs.

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument , Colorado : This park was set aside to protect the fossil beds. Fossils from an ancient forest and lake buried by volcanic ash. The website has a fossil database of fossils found at the park, and an online museum with wonderful photographs of animal, plant, and insect fossils. A short description of the geology and fossils is also provided in online field notes.

Fossil Butte National Monument , Wyoming : This park was set aside to protect the fossil beds. The online geology field guide describes fossils from an Eocene Lake (Green River Formation), which include fish, reptiles, birds, mammals, insects, and plants.

Eocene-Oligocene Epochs

Badlands National Monument , South Dakota : This online geology field guide offers a short explanation of the ancient marshes, streams, and grasslands that once covered this area. The park is famous for its fossil mammals.

Miocene Epoch 

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument , Nebraska : This park was set aside to protect the fossil beds. The online geology field notes provide an explanation of Miocene grasslands with pictures of the mammal fossils found in the park. You can link to the park website for additional information.

Quaternary Period

Pliocene Epoch

Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument , Idaho : This park was set aside to preserve one of the richest areas of horse fossils in the world. The online geology field notes describes the fossil horses and horse evolution. Additional information is available at the main park website

Pleistocene Epoch 

Channel Islands National Monument , California : Online geologic field notes provide a short explanation of the dwarf mammoths found here.

Holocene Epoch

Aniakchak Caldera Monument , Alaska : Site provides information about an explosive volcanic eruption 3,500 years ago.

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