Stonerose Interpretive Center
© Photo by Tom Wolken
Stonerose is the only structured public fossil digging program in Washington State. Open to all, the site gives fossil enthusiasts of all ages the unique ability to unearth 50 million year old plants, insects, and fish, now encased in shale. Best of all, this site is extremely fossil-rich and allows visitors to keep three fossils per day.
Fifty million years ago, the area was a warm upland climate that was a result of the geologic forces uplifting the highlands. These conditions resulted in a string of highland lakes rich in deposited sediment, unlike any other Eocene fossil site.
The sediments were deposited over hundreds of years with alternating layers of ash, sands, diatoms and lava flows. These layers provide a snapshot into the fast evolving and dynamic landscape that shaped many of the important plant and animal groups we see around us today.
What to Expect:
After checking in at the visitor center and purchasing an admission ticket, you are free to visit the nearby fossil site and begin fossil collecting. Stonerose is unique in that each visitor is able to keep three of the fossils found, per day. There is no time-limit, so visitors may dig from open to close. After collecting fossils, visitors return to the Interpretive Center where staff will help identify finds. If you are lucky enough to uncover a scientifically important fossil, Stonerose Interpretive Center may retain your find for research purposes.
Stonerose is located within the town of Republic itself, with a number of hotels, motels, and camping sites in the area, many of which are within walking distance of the fossil site.
What to Bring:
Tools are required to dig fossils of any kind. At Stonerose, visitors are welcome to bring along their own hammers, cold chisels, screwdrivers and putty knives for finding fossils. The Stonerose Interpretive Center rents hammers and cold chisels for a minimal fee. The fossil site is a hill of loose rock. Closed shoes that will protect your feet from sharp rocks and sunglasses or goggles will protect eyes. It is useful to have a towel or pad to sit or kneel on. Because the site can be very hot in the summer, long pants, a hat and water are also suggested.
May, Sept & Oct | Wed-Sun
Memorial Day-Labor Day | open daily
There is so much more to see in this part of the world
Here is a sampling of other things to do that are close by:
Curlew Lake State Park – campgrounds, swimming, boating
Republic Brewing – Microbrewery
Pan for Gold – See information on the Republic’s website for locations/restrictions.
Extend your trip to:
Roosevelt Lake, camping, hiking, fishing
Grand Coulee Dam – historic tour
Steamboat Rock State Park – camping, boating and awesome scenery
Dry Falls – scenic site of ancient ice age flood and waterfall
Coming from South or East: Cat Tales Zoological Park
Dr. Kathleen Pigg
Stonerose Interpretive Center
What makes Stonerose significant?
Stonerose in Republic hosts an extremely well preserved and highly diverse latest Early Eocene paleobiota, including fossil plant remains, and insect body fossils and distinctive damage patterns on leaves that indicate predation, often by specific insects. Republic is the southernmost outcrop in a series of fossil localities known as the Okanogan Highlands that extend up through central British Columbia in a northwestern direction. Here we find some of the earliest evidence of some of the plants that are most important in the temperate, deciduous floras today such as the birch/hazelnut family, the rose family (like cherries and a lot of ornamental plants), diverse early maples, elms and pines, firs and dawn redwoods, to name a few.
What has been most surprising about your discoveries at this location?
We have described the earliest Prunus flowers in the fossil record (this is the genus of cherries, peaches, plums), as well as the earliest hazelnut fruits. We have described the first fossil onions in the fossil record and they make both flowers and the little "bulbils" that are the onion sets like you plant in your garden. We also have entire waterlily plants that floated in the lake and dispersed their seeds in a gooey mass just like modern ones do, and leaves that have intermediate shapes that suggest they may have been hybrids. There are a lot of great stories in these plants that help us understand how they lived.
What are your current research objectives at your site?
We are doing two types of things: first we are identifying the plants, comparing them to modern relatives and other related fossils and trying to understand how they changed through time in both structure and where they live in the world. We are also looking for features that are important clues to what evolutionary mechanisms they had in life that allowed them to adapt to a climate with seasons, things like dormancy over the winter.
What was most important or rewarding find at this site?
For me it’s the onions (Paleoallium billgenseli) because it was really tricky to figure out what they were, and who doesn't like onions? Depending on the day I might change my mind and say the earliest cherries and hazelnuts.
All the digs featured on Ancient Odysseys are non-profits and rely upon visitors and donations to continue their important scientific work. Please consider donating if you would like to support this organization's mission. All donations are tax deductible.