~There comes a time in every rightly-constructed boy's life when he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure.~
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
It’s hard to believe it as you first drive through town, but the sleepy west Texas town of Mineral Wells is concealing treasure. Mineral Wells hit its boom in the confidence of the 1920’s when it capitalized on the purported healing benefits of the mineral rich water found in the wells under the city. Wealthy citizens from around the country flocked to the resort city to bathe and drink in the miracle elixir and stay in the luxurious Baker Hotel. Soon, the snake oil charm wore off, but the city continued to enjoy several decades of prosperity thanks to the installation of a military training facility. Today, both the famous Baker Hotel and Fort Wolters have closed, leaving a city that is showing wear and fading into history, but there is still treasure buried in the city.
As they say, any treasure worth having is worth driving down a winding, country dirt road to find. Just when you think you have taken a wrong turn, you will top a hill and see the Mineral Wells Fossil Park. The park site was once the pit from which the dirt to cover the city landfill was taken. After the excavation and years of erosion, a veritable treasure trove of fossils from the Pennsylvania era was unearthed, creating a perfect fossil hunting site for all ages.
Unlike many other digging sites where persistence is the key and the payoff is low, in this location you will be instantly awarded with a plethora of paleontological finds. Without digging or even looking very hard, you can find ancient treasures sitting on the mottled surface of the pit, making the site ideal for young kids and yet entertaining for older kids too. The majority of our finds were crinoid stems, but there were enough shark’s teeth, trilobites, and bivalve clams to keep the hunt interesting. From across the sun-soaked pit, every minute or two the air would be punctuated with a “Look what I found” exclamation.
The boys spent well over an hour scraping up fossils from the dry ground and filling their pockets to overflowing. The instant reward was exhilarating to them. They even went so far as to claim certain fossil-rich sections of the site as their personal digging ground, although It did not seems as though there was any place where there were not fossils to be found. It’s not hard for a group of boys to find fun with a giant pit of dirt, but when the pit is full of fossils, it’s hard not to think of yourself as Indiana Jones. If dirty hands and filthy faces are any indication of a good time, we had plenty of fun to go around.
Know Before You Go
- Admission is free.
- Mineral Wells Fossil Park is officially open Friday-Monday from dawn to dusk. However, if you happen to be in town on any other day of the week, feel free to park outside the gate and go inside.
- Primitive bathrooms are available, but there is no water in the park. Bring your own snacks and drinks.
- There is no shade of any kind in the park, so bring plenty of sunscreen and sun protection.
- Avoid the park in the heat of summer and during the hot parts of the day.