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Fossil Hunting In Las Vegas

Updated on January 27, 2011

Frenchman Mountain, A Fossil Hotbed.

Fossil hunting near Lava Butte on BLM land.
Fossil hunting near Lava Butte on BLM land.
The Rainbow Gardens has plenty of ravines to check out for Fossils.
The Rainbow Gardens has plenty of ravines to check out for Fossils.
A Paleozoic Era fossil found around Lava Butte.
A Paleozoic Era fossil found around Lava Butte.
Trilobyte fossil found around Frenchman Mountain.
Trilobyte fossil found around Frenchman Mountain.
Frenchman Mountain area.
Frenchman Mountain area.

Who Knew Fossils Could Be Found in Vegas?

Fossil hunting in Las Vegas Valley keeps the calories down and is quite popular with the locals but not so much with the tourist. The locals keep the fossils a secret. Finding fossils in the Las Vegas area is actually pretty easy. During the Paleozoic Era Las Vegas was a shallow ocean. Today remnants of that ocean has been left in fossil records scattered all over the valley. For Las Vegas locals this means great hikes around the valley and for the tourists it means a possible break from the casinos.

Las Vegas Valley is surrounded by mountain ranges. On the west side lie the Spring Mountains to the north lie the Sheep Head Range and to the east lie Sunrise and Frenchman Mountain. Most of the areas are under the management of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Fossil hunters can remove fossils under BLM control but there are guidelines that should be read before setting out. The BLM paleontolgical laws are on this website:http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/more/CRM/paleontology/paleontological_laws.html.

The Lake Mead National Recreation Area, The Valley of Fire, and Red Rock canyon areas are off limits as far as removal of any fossils. In addition, a newly created area, Tule Springs can also be added to this list. This area is north of Decatur near the new county shooting range. It is currently a designated historic area.

Near Lake Mead lies the Lava Butte area which comes under the BLM. In this area the washes and ravines have fossils that have eroded from the surrounding limestone deposits. Shell fossils from the Paleozoic Era are frequently found on the wash and canyon floors.They wash down into the washes from limestone deposits in the mountains. There are also plenty of hiking trails in the area. People love to climb the rocks in this area too.

Near Red Rock and closer to Blue Diamond the mountains hold a treasure trove of different fossils form the Paleozoic era. Corals, some bi-valve shellss lace the mountains in this area. Most of these areas are near the highway and you can park on the side of the road to hike up into the hills. This area does not have a lot of hiking trails. The mountains in the area are also composed of limestone.

The Area to the east under Frenchman Mountain near Lakemead and Hollywood lies the old dump. This area is loaded with pioche shale. The shale is soft, which means you can split the shale with your hands. The shale lines the base of Frenchman mountain and is located above the last rows of houses off of Lake Mead going towards the lake. The dark brown shale once was at the bottom of the ocean and was once used by the trilobyte, a horseshoe crab looking animal, to molt their shells in the area. This area is a great place to take a child to look for their first fossils.The mountain has well worn trails and makes for an easy hike from the road.

Corals and shells can also be found in limestone deposits in the North Las Vegas area. The area known as the Las Vegas Wash contains fossils but this area is now protected. The area is also known as Tule Springs. Tule Springs supporters are seeking Federal government protection and they want the government to create a federal national monument to protect the numerous Ice Age bones found in the area. The areas to the northwest of Interstate 95 are rich in Paleozoic fossils and fall under BLM jurisdiction.The lack of trails in the area make for a rough hike.

Fossil hunting exercises your body and burns calories and is a great way to stay in shape with others or your family. Hike all year long but safety should be paramount. Never hike alone and wear appropriate clothing for the weather conditions. Las Vegas ravines and valleys are prone to flash flooding during the summer monsoon season or the wintertime so it is important to pay attention to the weather and where you are hiking. Always let someone know where you are going. Remember you are walking in desert so water should also be a concern. During the summer months rattle snakes roam the valley. They like to come out of hiding in the early morning and at dusk. Stay on trails and be aware of where you are walking.

Rattle snake found on the west side of Las Vegas during May.
Rattle snake found on the west side of Las Vegas during May.

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      Las Vegas Chris 2 years ago

      I'm a local here in Vegas. I knew about Rainbow Gardens for years. About ten years ago or more the entry sign used to say what types of fossils you could find out there. Not until recently I've been watching videos and looking up places to Rockhound in or near Las Vegas. Then I remembered the Lava Butte & Rainbow Gardens turnoff on the way to Lake Mead. I went right out there not expecting anything other than a great outdoor experience. Well the sign has since changed. It doesn't talk about the types of fossils you could find any more. That's actually a good thing since Las Vegas population boom.

      I drove out to ( sorry my little secret but my secret is absolutely out in this area ) I pulled over on the side of the dirt road and started to try and read the land. From what I've been learning online I seemed to know what I was doing. Holly Molly , I found my first piece of petrified wood. It was small, about 6 in. but it had these really cool white, pink and red crystals all over one side of it. I also found a few other really cool pieces. Since then I've returned several more times. I've found lots of fossil each time and each time I'm looking in different areas but always around my secret spot. I have found Petrified wood, petrified coral, petrified pine cones af some sort, I'm even finding fossils that are obviously fossils but I have no idea what kind. Out of all the specimens I have discovered so far the very first one is still by far the best and most remember able. I've been bitten by the Rockhounding bug. I'm going back out this weekend to continue my hunt for the prize. It's so much fun and quite the experience searching out in the middle of the desert knowing that millions of years ago there Was so much greenery, water and life. ITS ALL STILL THERE! Frozen in time... You just need to know where to look and what you're looking at. Good luck hunters! I wish I could find some kind of rendering of what the area looked like back then. All I have to go by right now is my imagination and by the things I'm finding, it was a beautiful place.

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      Dani G. 2 years ago

      Always out fossil hunting with my buddy Wyatt as temps cool in Vegas- interested lvmitsubishi@aol.com

    • Marilyn Fritz profile image

      Marilyn 3 years ago from Nevada

      The Las Vegas Valley had all kinds of fossils, including Ova-Raptor eggs (petrified of course). There are arrow heads still to be found, fish of various types and sizes, shark teeth, and along the Colorado River there have been discoveries of dinosaur bones. Lots of fun stuff!

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      Kalyne utter 4 years ago

      I know this is probably weird, but I'm looking for a group that looks for fossils called Fossil Finders. Would you know how I could get in touch with them? My email is utterfamily@hotmail.com. Thanks for your help.

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      Daniel 5 years ago

      This is GREAT ! I am going to Vegas to see my brother and would love to take my sons fossil hunting. I wonder if you can guide me a bit on that area. Im looking at the Lake Mead-Hollywood Rd. area on Google maps. Is it possible to just park on the side of E. Lake Mead just past the houses and start walking behind the houses? Or should I park near Claudine Dr? or Owen Ave.? or Top of the World Drive? I don't know the area at all, I'm just looking at the map. Any help you can give would be greatly appreciated. My son is a fossil fanatic and would love this!

    • Jonathan Grimes profile image

      Jonathan Grimes 5 years ago from Devon

      Interesting to know that you can fossil hunt around Vagas, how would have thought. I fossil hunt at Charmouth, in Dorset England for Ammonites and have a hub on it if you are interested.

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      Phil Rimer 6 years ago

      There are fossils and Indian Artifacts all over the Las Vegas Valley. I found a shell fossil at my home on Industrial road and Warm Springs. At a previous home 20 years ago, when my pool was dug I found Indian Artifacts including pottery shards, arrowheads, scrapers, and a hand carved bone pin that was used in some type of loom for making blankets. I also found bones in the desert behind my house which appeared to be human but after I reported it to the police, they told me they were animal bones. I should have followed up what happened to them.

    • Fossillady profile image

      Kathi 7 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

      I want to come to Vegas, but not for the casinos! Man, I'd love to fossil hunt. I live in Michigan and I don't know of any locations like the ones you describe in your hug. I'm jealous!

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