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
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”.
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