I’m standing on a hillside in the Shoshone Mountains of central Nevada, nearly 7,000 feet above sea level, 280 miles from the ocean, at Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park. At my feet are the fossilized remains of several huge, ocean-dwelling reptiles. They died one day in the Triassic, probably together, perhaps poisoned by a toxic bloom of red algae, then sank to the ocean floor, far out on the continental shelf of a nascent North America that had not yet drifted apart from Pangea.

The reptiles’ bodies were covered in mud, and while the earth circled the sun another 210 million times, the continental shelf edged up onto dry land, North America drifted from the tropics to mid-temperate latitudes, the Shoshone Mountains rose, miners came and found huge vertebrae on the ground (which some used as dinner plates), and Shonisaurus popularis became the Nevada state fossil.

Today the Ichthyosaurs and the miners are gone from this place, but vestiges of both linger. All things may be impermanent, but most things get recycled, and traces of things past can resurface unexpextedly after a very, very long time.

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fossils 1

Shonisaurus vertebrae (round shapes at left) and ribs (linear shapes at right).
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fossils 2

A ranger helps visitors find fossil bones and see the overall shape of the Ichthyosaur.
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fossils 3

A life-size depiction of Shonisaurus on a wall near the fossil bed.

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Copyright © 2009 Tim Messick. All rights reserved.

About Tim Messick

Photographer, cartographer, and botanist/naturalist. Home is in Davis, California. Home-away-from-home is the eastern Sierra Nevada. Compiling a flora of the Bodie Hills.
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One Response to Ichthyosaurs

  1. Alan says:

    Such a mind-boggling expanse of time…


    PS – Beautiful shots. 🙂

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