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Reptile History
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trexmuseumWhere to find Fossils, Gems, and Minerals in Arizona

This book is designed for anyone to simply and easily search for fossils sites in Arizona, either by common name, scientific name, or area. There are many links to other sites with research, pictures, and information you will need to hunt for, find, and correctly collect fossils in Arizona including applicable laws. Directions are given as well as a listing of what you are most likely to find there. In addition the equipment and techniques for digging are also cover. All and all the only book of its kind for fossil collectors from 3 to 83. Dr. Samuel Breidenbach

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First let us define "What is a fossil?" Put simply a fossil is a once living organism or part of one that after dying through an incompletely understood mechanism called fossilization became another substance;  usually some form of rock or stone.  There are no bones left from the dinosaurs, most mammals from over a thousand years ago, and all earlier forms of life from bugs to trees.  They are all now stone copies.  And they are rare.  It is only the shear volume of once living organisms from over a billion years that allows us to find any fossils.  Likely only a few percent (some estimates have it less than 1%) of all living creatures ever fossilize. 

For example, let's take shark teeth.  If an average shark lived 10 years his constantly shed and replenished teeth from his jaws would number in the thousands.  They are shed like we shed hair.  And since they are in water they rarely do not fossilize.  One shark could actually leave up to 30,000 teeth in a lifetime on the ocean floor.  And what once ocean may now be desert, mountain, or plain.

Now how does one find fossils?  There is no easy answer to this one.  Sometimes they are on the surface and you can pick them up like shells off a beach.  But most of the time they are disguised or hidden.  That requires a little education to find.  A good way to educate yourself is on the internet, a local bookstore, or a library.  There are many good books for all ages and levels.  But perhaps a better way is to go to a museum that specializes in ancient life.  There you can get a really good education for the price of admission.  Any museum worthy of the name have staff members that will happily talk to you about this subject.

Dinosaur and Ancient Life

Albertasaurus:  This Tyrannosaurid is basically a smaller version of the T Rex and lived at about the same time.  So far only fragmentary remains such as teeth have been found in the Santa Rita Mountains near Tucson.  Look sharp and you could be the first to discover a major find of Tyrannosaurus.

Aetosaurs:  If Thecodonts from the Upper Triassic are your thing then the Chinle Formations throughout the Petrified Forest National Park area has yielded Acenasuchus, Desmatosuchas, Paratypothorax, Stagonolepis, and Typothorax species.

Coelophysis:  Found in the Painted Desert part of the Petrified Forest National Park East of Holbrook.  Most found in the North wilderness area.  You must have a permit to dig, but looking is okay.  GPS very helpful in case you find something.

Dilophosaurus:  Found in NE Az at the junction of US 160 & 89 just West of Tuba City about 200 yards off the old highway toward Moenave in the Kayenta Formation rocks.  On Reservation land so ask permission before any digging.

Herrerasurus (Chindesaurus bryansmalli):  One of the earliest of all dinosaur species ever found was found in the Chinle Formation inside Petrified Forest National Park.  It is likely that there are specimens outside the restricted park that have not been found yet.

Iguanadon:  Found in Tucson Mountains on Cat Mountain.  Unfortunately this specimen was believed to have been "floated" into the area on a free floating block of rock on a lava flow so it undoubtedly originated somewhere else.  But there could still be more not found of course.

Massospondylus:  This Prosauropod from the Early Jurassic  has been found near Rock Head on the Navajo Indian Reservation.

Pterosaurs:  Trace finds of these flying reptiles have been found in the Kayenta Formations near the Four Corners area including possible trackways..  We know they were in AZ, just haven't found much yet.

Phytosaurs:  These crocodile-like reptiles from the Triassic are relatively numerous in all formations of Triassic age found throughout Northern Arizona with nearly a dozen species found so far.

Plesiosaurs:  Both the long necked and short neck versions have been found in Arizona.  All so far have been found in Mancos Shale around Black Mesa.

Poposaurs:  Three species have been found so far in Arizona and all in various Chinle Formation strata near and in Petrified Forest National Park.  The species are Postosuchus kirkpatricki, poposaurus gracilis, and Chatterjeea elegans.

Sonorasaurus:  This large Brachiosaurid dinosaur has been found in the Patagonia area of SE Arizona.  It is likely that more are out there and this individual was actually found by an amateur fossil hunter searching Cretaceous formation of the area.

Scutellosaurus:  Found just to the East of Cameron and North of Flagstaff on US 89.  This area is called the painted Desert and is on the Navajo Indian Reservation SE of Rock Head Ridge on Ward Terrace.  Ask permission before hunting this area.

Syntarus kayentakatae:  This coelophysis-like early dinosaurs were found in the Kayenta Formation rocks in the Little Colorado River Valley.  Not much I known about them at present.

Tenontosaurus:  It is still unknown if this is an early Iguandontidae or Hypsilophodontidae.  But remains have been found in both the Empire Mountains and the Whetstone Mountains in SE Arizona.  Can you be the first to find an almost complete skeleton?

TurtlesKayentachellys (a primitive snake-snecked turtle) is found in the Kayenta formation throughout Northern Arizona.  Sea turtles of the family Dematochelys have been found in the Mancos shale around Black Mesa.  The soft shell turtle Trionyx (still alive today) and Plastomenus are found throughout the Santa Rita Mountains near Tucson in Fort Crittendn Formation rocks.

Gems & Minerals


     Apache Trail Tours.  Apache Junction, Az.$80 per person.

     Goldfield Ghost Town, Az. $5.50 a person.

     Lynx Creek Mineral Withdrawal Area Prescott, Az. $10

     Robson's Mining World Wickenburg, AZ$5


     Purple Passion Mine William Gardner Glendale, AZ.  602 547-2234.  Many types.

     Black Hills Rock hound Area BLM Safford, AZ.  928 388-4400.  Fire Agates

     Fat Jack Mine  in Bradshaw Mountains.  480 839-0151.  Many type including Amethyst, quartz, garnet, tourmaline, & limonite.
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