Online exhibits : Special exhibits : Fossils in our parklands
Red Rock Canyon State Park

Red Rock Canyon State Park, California
by Jere Lipps

Located in Kern County 25 miles north of Mojave in the El Paso Mountains, Red Rock Canyon State Park preserves 27,000 acres of badlands made of Miocene terrestrial sedimentary rocks and interbedded basalt volcanic flows and ash beds. These rocks, deposited in streams and floodplains, consist of muds, sands and conglomerates, are part of the Dove Spring Formation formerly known as the Ricardo Formation. They range in age from 12 to 8 million years old and yield fossils of various vertebrates (horse, camel, antelope, saber-tooth cats, bone-crushing dogs, rodents, rabbits, insectivores, and others) as well as plant fossils (palms and grasses, but few leaves). Because of the desert conditions, the rocks are well exposed. They are tilted slightly because of motion on the nearby Garlock fault.

Red Rock Canyon State Park contains the most complete fossil record of vertebrates in North America of Clarendonian age and as such, can be considered one of the most important late Miocene localities in North America.

UCMP involvement
UCMP has collected from this area for many decades. Early field trips were led by John C. Merriam in 1913 and numerous specimens were collected by Don Savage and Dave Whistler in the 1960s. Field trips to the area demonstrate to students the complex sedimentary environments, the interbedded basalts and ash that can be radiometrically dated, and the techniques of fossil prospecting and excavation (the latter requires permits).

Badlands exposing thicknesses of fossiliferous sedimentary rock Berkeley students prospecting for fossils in Red Rock Canyon Fossil bone fragments are commonly found in the rocks of Red Rock Canyon

Click on any of these images to see enlargements. Left: Badlands exposures of fossiliferous sedimentary rock. Note the cross-bedding indicating current action during the deposition of the sediments. Middle: Berkeley students prospecting for fossils in Red Rock Canyon, March 2008. Right: Fossil bone fragments are not uncommon in the rocks of Red Rock Canyon but collecting them without a permit is illegal.

In the collections
Although articulated skeletons are unknown from Red Rock Canyon except for two frogs, UCMP has complete skeletal elements of various animals. UCMP also has specimens of fossil palm trees that lived in the area during the Miocene.

Note: Collection of fossil material is illegal unless done under a permit from the California Department of Parks and Recreation. If you think you have found a fossil on state park lands, please contact a park representative.

More information
A list of references will be forthcoming.

All Red Rock Canyon photos by Jere Lipps.