Our living quarters for the week of the Trilobite fossil hunt. We were living off of MRE's and LOTS of water!
The Great Cambrian Trilobite Fossil Hunt at the House Range in Utah
The night air was cool and crisp, quite contrary to the day. The darkness was deep, as civilization was far beyond the horizon. The silence was deafening, save for an occasional "rattle" from a nearby dead rattlesnake. Armed with UV lights, two small groups slowly crept through the desert. "There's one!" shouted someone from one of the groups. Evading the prickly flora, the two groups quickly came together encircling a neon green scorpion. "Look, he's in his attack position." After marveling for a few minutes, the two groups separated, looking for more critters. Eventually, when everyone had their fill of scorpions, they returned to the campfire. Leisurely, as the night went on, one by one, people retired to their tents and campers that were haphazardly scattered around the "base camp."
After Amy and I had downed a bottle of wine around the fire, and finished marveling at Van Gogh's "Starry Night," we too returned to our tent, planning the next day's events. Tomorrow would be a busy day of digging, as this was the 2nd annual Trilobite Jam, and we were camping in the House Range of Utah, a world famous trilobite locality.
The American Trilobite Suppliers generously host a 4 day "Trilobite Jam" at one of their properties in Utah. Their property in the House Range contains the Wheeler and Marjum formation. They have numerous small quarries dotting the property exposing the two Cambrian formations. The Wheeler and Marjum formations at the House Range are world renowned. The Wheeler shale supplies the world with their Elrathia kingii trilobites, probably the most well known trilobite on earth. Other trilobites include Asaphiscus wheeleri, small agnostid trilobites such as Peronopsis, and the rare Olenoides nevadensis with cool axial spines. Besides trilobites, there is an echinoderm called a Gogia spiralis that looks like a water hydra with little plates all over it. On the American Trilobite Suppliers property, the wheeler shale produces bugs that range in colors from black and orange, to a beautiful red!
The Marjum formation has some rare, beautiful, and large trilobite fossils! These include Modocia sp., Bathyuriscus fimbriatus, the 5" Hemirhodon amplipyge, and the prized 6" Olenoides superbus with its incredible axial spines!
Each day, we picked a couple different quarries to collect at. We picked one for in the morning, took a short rest, food, and water break in the extreme heat of the day, then headed to one or two more in the late afternoon. Then in the evening we headed to a spring a few miles away to wash up.
Since this was our first time in this type of fossil shale, we mainly stayed in quarries that had the more common trilobites. As novices here, we were unable to tell which specimens would be complete when prepped. We learned later that we carried way more back to the camp than what actually turned out to be great specimens. We ended up brining home two boxes of specimens. Most of them turned out to be cheekless, headless, or crushed. However, we still ended up with eight complete ones (minus the dozen or so agnostids and some tiny Elrathia). The best one is a beautiful complete ~3" carmel colored Asaphiscus wheeleri specimen.
The event was run very well and the site couldn't have been better. Jason, Jake, and the rest of the crew did a wonderful job hosting the jam. They were all incredibly friendly and helped out in any way possible! I hope to return to another Jam sometime in the near future!
Below are tons of photos and a sample of some of the trilobites and other fossils from the Utah trip.
Where to find similar Trilobites: To try and find your own trilobites, I would suggest going to the U-Dig quarry, or
To learn about some of the Trilobites found during the trip, visit our Trilobite Gallery
Pictures around the House Range, where the Wheeler Shale is exposed
A view of the "Base Camp" from a nearby hillside.
These are two scorpions shown under UV light. Their exoskeletons fluoresce under UV light.
A video of one of the attack scorpions
Check your gear before starting the day! You never know where an attack scorpion may be hiding!
This was our guard dog, a Horned Toad Lizard. He protected our tent from scorpions… At least that's what we told him to do!
Amy is holding her new friend, a Collard Lizard. He was hiding under a rock in one of the quarries.
Collard Lizards love to hunt for trilobites.
Anyone that has fossil collected with me knows I am a lazy collector... Easily sidetracked... This photo is during a hike in the desert looking for rattlesnakes and other critters instead of fossils.
The road leading to the Wheeler Quarry. The tiny white dot near the horizon is "base camp."
I'm scouting at the "Bathyuriscus Bonanza" quarry.
Amy is splitting Wheeler shale.
Here is an accumulation of cheekless Elrathia trilobites. Most are cheekless molts. Occasionally one with cheeks can be found.
These are two Elrathia trilobite fossils with cheeks.
Here are some Asaphiscus wheeleri trilobite pieces. The one to the lower left had the tail end smashed up, and couldn't be fixed. The other one to the right glued back together pretty nice. However it is missing its cheeks..
Images of some of the prepped fossils from the trilobite trip
This is one of the Gogia specimens that we found. It is a type of early echinoderm. These fossils are found in the Wheeler Formation.
This is the large Asaphiscus wheeleri triolobite as found. It's slightly below the rock, you can see the outline.
This is the best Asaphiscus wheeleri trilobite fossil I found from the trip. It has a beautiful chocolate color and is huge; 2 7/8" long.
Prep sequence video of the large Asaphiscus trilobite fossil
This smaller 1 3/4" asaphiscus specimen is a beautiful orange color. It had the pygidium chipped when found. Also, when prepping, the rock broke, and flaked a small piece of the right cheek.
This is a time-lapse video of the trilobite fossil preparation sequence of the 1 3/4" asaphiscus wheeleri.
This is a Bathyuriscus fimbriatus trilobite from the Marjum Formation. Ihis 2.5" specimen is complete, but poorly preserved.
Here is another red Elrathia trilobites after being prepped.
Yet another Elrathia trilobite fossil after being prepped.
Here are a few red Elrathia trilobites after being prepped.
This is a peronopsis trilobite fossil from Utah. They are fairly small, and look almost like pepper flakes on the rock
Recommended Fossil Books for Utah and Trilobites
Rockhounding Utah: A Guide To The State's Best Rockhounding Sites
by William A. Kappele, Copyright 2014
These rockhouding book series are great because they give detailed information including color images, directions, and even GPS coordinates. The rockhounding books concentrate on minerals, but also have some fossil locations included. The book use to have 86 sites, but now has 69 sites because the Escalante National Site made 17 sites unavailable.
Trilobites: Common Trilobites of North America (A NatureGuide Book)
by Jasper Burns, 2000
I love Jasper Burns. His Fossil Collecting in the Mid-Atlantic book is still one of my favorite fossil books. His drawings are spectacular and the books are well laid out. This book serves as a field guide and identification guide to North American trilobites. If you fossil hunt for trilobites in North America, you should have this book!
The Trilobite Book: A Visual Journey
by Dr. Riccardo Levi-Setti, 2014
This is an updated (2014) hardcover (kindle available) of his famous 1994 book. It now has color images instead of black and white ones. The images are of prefectly prepared trilobites from all over the world. this book is geared toward the beginner and does not get overly technical. However, it's wonderful just to see the pictures, and a must for any trilobite enthusiast.