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Broken Dreams.....

Work brought me to the beautiful state of Pennsylvania the past week and I decided to try to obtain some PA fossils.   Limited research on where my project was located didn’t look promising so I decided to check some BRF PA trip postings.   I inquired some fellow BRF members on areas to hunt in the proximate region.   Special thanks to xiphodan who not only replied, but was kind enough to share exact directions / aerial of the site he collected with his children back in 2004.  Talk about a memory like an elephant.   St. Clair was about an hour away so I decided to give it a go.  I tried to get more info on the site but couldn’t find any additional information on who owned the site.  Some research showed that a famous fossil fern collection area owned by Pennsylvania Anthracite no longer allows anyone on the property due to liability concerns.  


I arrived at the Philadelphia airport flying blind.  Not because I wasn’t sure if this was the site that was closed, but because I realized I cut up a jalapeno in my homemade salsa the night before (as I inserted my contact in my right eye that morning).  Don’t know if this would be considered a posting for the Bonehead Mistake(s) forum thread. 


After about a three hour drive I arrived in St. Clair and followed the directions.   As I got closer to the area, my stomach sunk.  This must have been that site referenced because all along the roadway of the area mining operations were “No Trespassing” / “Keep Out” signage.  As I continued the drive, the signage finally terminated.  My hopes went up.   I finally arrived at the site and pulled my rental in the roadway parking area.  I saw no signage anywhere in the proximate area and the path look well traveled.  I decided to roll the dice, so I grabbed my backpacks / mattock and followed the trail.   While walking down the trail, out of nowhere, I heard a hail storm of gun fire that made me almost soil my pants and flinch as if a Meganeura monyi buzzed past my head.  I didn’t hear any rounds pass through the foliage so I quickly hoofed it down the trail.


The path lead to an area with shale with fern impressions as far as the eye could see.  I picked over smaller pieces that took my fancy in addition to a couple larger plates keeping in mind that I had to haul my full backpacks quite some way back in addition to squirreling my finds through the airport security.  There was definitely signs of collectors at this site, from children by evidence of a lost sun hat to the more experienced collectors – evidence of use of concrete saws to extract large slab pieces.  After about 2 hours listening to sporadic gun fire and collecting fern impressions, I got my fill and made my way back.  I arrived back at my rental car (VW Jetta – sweet ride) and was relieved that is wasn’t towed, ticketed or with the windows shot out.   As I drove back to my hotel I noticed why all the gun fire.  The site was proximate to a shooting range for the locals.


I cleaned my finds off with a tooth brush at the hotel and wrapped them up with styrofoam / bubble wrap and placed them in a small suitcase which I planned on taking as a carry on.  With my project completed the following day, I arrived back at the airport and checked my other suitcase which contained my mattock, dirty clothes and boots. 


Ahh, the infamous security check.  I am not kidding on that this small suitcase had to weigh a good 50 pounds. The suitcase could hold about a 20 course area of bricks.  I lugged it on the conveyor and as expected.  “Sir, is this yours, I need to check the contents”.    I told him what was in it, but if fell on dead ears.   He swiped the handle and zippers and did a test on it.   Then I realized I packed what I believe were some anthracite coal pieces in it.   I started to sweat thinking if this swipe test checked for volatile organic compounds (VOCs).    He then opened the bag and started to mess up my awesome packing job on my fossils.   Finally, I was good to go.  


My flight was completely full and I was situated in the middle of the boarding group.  As I arrived near the bulkhead, the airline attendant stated that all the overheads compartments were full and they needed to start checking bags.  Sh--, as my turn came I told her my destination was Raleigh and that this was a “heavy” bag.   I as I made my way into the plane I overheard that co-pilot reply. “MY GOD” (as he was helping with the bags since the flight was behind schedule).   He must have just tried to pick my bag.   I was expecting an inquiry, like “Sir, there is no way this bag could have went in an overhead”.  But nothing happened.  


Now my worry was on what condition my fossils would arrive back home.  They were packed for limited “handling” and not the infamous rough handling that airlines are known for.    As I unpacked them at home I noticed quite a bit of busted shale pieces.   All in all, they arrived in intact, but as expected, some of my favorite ones arrived as ‘broken dreams”.


FYI…All plant fossils were found in the Llewellyn Formation (300 mya, Pennsylvanian Period) and are one of the few places where one can find these very detailed white (sometimes yellow) ferns on a striking contrast of black shale. The plants died and fell into the swamp, where in a low temperature, pressure, and oxygen environment the plant tissue was slowly replaced by pyrite (from sulphides). Pyrophyllite (aluminum silicate, a whitish mineral) is believed to have replaced the pyrite at a later stage as the sediments piled up and the temperature and pressure became greater.

Thanks again xiphodan, I owe you.

Brad aka Brachiomyback

Location Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, USA

Date Added5/1/2009

The infamous 1/4 telephone marker.
The path
Got Shale?
Alethopteris detail
Alethopteris detail
Alethopteris detail
Alethopteris detail
The haul

Fern Fury!
Fern Fury!
A trip with the kids to St. Clair PA
A trip with the kids to St. Clair PA

Great Read! - 5/3/2009
Reviewer : MikeDOTB from North Carolina United States
Total Rating : 10
Once again your job is awesome. That and you have an uncanny way of planning fossil hunting trips in accordance with work. Those are some awesome finds, I am going to have to make my way up there soon and hopefully pick some up. Again it was a great read! Content Quality : 10 of 10

Drool Quotient : 10 of 10

Picture Quality : 10 of 10
VOTE! Agree  Disagree 

- 5/4/2009
Reviewer : Govinn from Virginia United States
Total Rating : 10
Great finds! Very informative. Thanks for posting. Content Quality : 10 of 10

Drool Quotient : 10 of 10

Picture Quality : 10 of 10
VOTE! Agree  Disagree 

Excellent report-again! - 5/5/2009
Reviewer : Fat Boy from Maryland United States
Total Rating : 10
I enjoyed your report, as usual. Keep up the good work! Content Quality : 10 of 10

Drool Quotient : 10 of 10

Picture Quality : 10 of 10
VOTE! Agree  Disagree 

- 9/26/2009
Reviewer : Down by the banks from
Total Rating : 10
Sweet Content Quality : 10 of 10

Drool Quotient : 10 of 10

Picture Quality : 10 of 10
VOTE! Agree  Disagree  1 of 1 voters agreed.





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