Did you know there are fossil beds in Indiana? They’re some of the the largest, naturally exposed Devonian fossil beds in the world! Last autumn we visited Falls of the Ohio State Park, where the fossil beds are located. Luckily, it was the river’s low time of the year, and it happened to be lower than in most years. That meant more fossils were exposed than usual.
Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center
Before heading down to the river, we stopped at the Falls of the Ohio Interpretive Center. In a ten-minute orientation film where we learned how the fossil beds were formed 390 million years ago.
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After the film, interpretive naturalist Jeremy Beavin took us on a tour of the Interpretive Center, wher exhibits focus on the area’s geology, archaeology, and history. Exhibits are simple enough for kids to understand and include plenty of interactivity. Yet, they’re interesting for adults, as well.
Fun fact: Brothers George Rogers Clark and William Clark both have ties to the Falls of the Ohio. Military leader George Rogers Clark founded Clarksville, Indiana, where the Falls of the Ohio are located, as well as Louisville, directly across the river in Kentucky. William Clark met Meriwether Lewis at the Falls of the Ohio, from which they departed on their Louisiana Purchase exploration.
Exploring the fossil beds
Following our Interpretive Center tour, Jeremy led us outside, down to the fossil beds located on the banks of the Ohio River. “They’re literally everywhere,” Jeremy told us. “But a lot of people don’t know what to look for. So we do have fossil brochures available to help them out.”
He wasn’t kidding that fossils are everywhere! I expected to have to hunt for them, but they really were all over. Jeremy sprayed the rocks with water, which makes the fossils easier to see. (He recommends bringing a spray bottle of water with you.) Jeremy pointed out trilobites, crinoids (they look like Cheerios), horn coral, and many more fossils.
“The farther you go down [toward the river] the older they are. As you go down, the fossils are less common, but they tend to be a little bigger.”
The river and fossil beds formed over millions of years, and they haven’t stopped evolving. The fossil beds weather away, but as some fossils fade away, others appear. “Over by that tree we used to have a couple real nice snail fossils that we used to show people,” Jeremy explained. “They’re gone. But afterwards, those two trilobites appeared that I showed you. Those used to not be visible.”
Saved from human destruction
Today fossils weather away naturally, but at one time they were disappearing at the hands of humans. There were houses and bait shops along the river. People dumped garbage there. And they collected fossils, cutting them out of the bedrock. In the late 1960s Falls of the Ohio became a wildlife conservation area and eventually a state park. Fossil collecting is no longer allowed. If it’s driftwood you’re after, though, you’re welcome to it. “We encourage people to take driftwood,” Jeremy told us. “As you can see, the river brings us a fresh supply every time it raises its level.”
If you visit Falls of the Ohio State Park
Falls of the Ohio State Park is located at the end of West Riverside Drive in Clarksville, Indiana. The park is open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week. The Interpretive Center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Check the website for Interpretive Center admission and parking fees.
We stayed at the Market Street Inn Bed and Breakfast during our visit to Jeffersonville. Check rates here.
Disclosures: The Clark-Floyd Counties Convention-Tourism Bureau and Falls of the Ohio State Park hosted our visit to Falls of the Ohio. However, any opinions in this article are my own.
This article contains an affiliate link, which means if you book a room through the TripAdvisor link above, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.
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