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Florissant Fossil Quarry Shale Shipment


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Sagebrush Steve

The Florissant Fossil Quarry in Florissant, Colorado, has been on my list of places to visit.  It is just outside the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument west of Colorado Springs.  As much as I would have liked to go dig at the quarry, I knew that wouldn’t happen this year.  So I decided to order some shale from the quarry and have it shipped to me.  Even at $7.50 per pound plus shipping it was less expensive to buy the shale than to spend a week on the road getting there and back from California.  After emailing Nancy Anderson at the quarry to work out the details, I mailed off my check for 20 pounds of shale and received two boxes by priority mail about a week later.  I have only just started going through it but I thought I would give you this early update.

 

The quarry is known for its plant and insect fossils, with an occasional fish or bird.  These fossils come from the Eocene epoch, about 34 million years ago.  The quarry’s website doesn’t go into stratigraphy but according to the National Monument website the fossils in the quarry come from the Lower Shale Unit of the Florissant Formation, which does not appear in the park itself.

 

5b5e9493eb859_IMG_1766adj.jpg.c8f3bd7f49079303f4342e08c8b5079d.jpg

 

First thing I did was weigh the boxes and as expected, I got what I ordered plus maybe a little bit more. 

5b5e94e2a3560_IMG_1765adj.jpg.e24bba9d10ab0c92f924a56d126f86cf.jpg

 

Here is what one of the boxes looks like when opened.  Only a small portion of the shale is spread out on the blue tarp, there is much more still in the bag.

 

5b5e95184f808_IMG_1770adj.jpg.7fd61beae95ed0241005cb71466b4437.jpg

 

Here’s the instruction sheet that came in the box.  They recommend preserving it with a mix of 1 part Elmer’s glue to 2 parts water, then coating with clear Krylon.  The shale is easily fractured so I definitely want to protect it, but if anyone has better recommendations, let me know.

 

5b5e954b9b4d7_IMG_1768adj.thumb.jpg.23bd0759934696e60bce3a5e8eefaff0.jpg

 

Here’s a typical piece.  The thin bands of shale are separated by an occasional layer of what one reference calls tufaceous siltstone.  There are no identifiable fossils in the siltstone, they are all in the thin layers of shale.

 

5b5e957a43eb6_IMG_1772adj.jpg.83e1cf485598ba06123e48a30ef3a13b.jpg

 

I decided to throw together a fixture to help hold the shale while I was splitting it.  I just took a few boards I had laying around and using clamps and screws, created a corner against which I could set the rock in place.  I have a thin spring steel chisel I originally bought to split Green River fish that works pretty well for the first round of splits.

 

5b5e95e3d0665_IMG_1818adj.thumb.jpg.5aef1daa9c0cd17348f8b8114c417a0b.jpg

 

Close-up of fixture.

 

5b5e962106576_IMG_1814adj.thumb.jpg.8fa8221c9cf66c28fb71787e3943d2f5.jpg

 

I soon realized I need to use a microscope and needle probes to really find things and clean them up.  Here is my microscope setup.

 

5b5e965f8ef38_IMG_1834adj.jpg.22f01661ffa6b957076ace9a16981b4a.jpg

 

A lot of the shale has unidentifiable bits and pieces of organic material, but I’ve already started discovering a few interesting things. 

5b5e96aabbe6f_IMG_1835adj.jpg.8b78c2d3ab4457edd2ce062fda1100d5.jpg

 

Here are a couple of partial leaf fossils.

5b5e971580d0c_IMG_1812adj.jpg.2be78e579fe5a27760d765d6ad351914.jpg

 

Here is another well-defined leaf that looks something like a willow.

 

5b5e96f049d03_IMG_1823adj.thumb.jpg.e7f3407ad4e982e01ea07520b92edb10.jpg

 

Here’s the most interesting thing I’ve found so far.  It looks like some sort of winged insect.  It is pretty small and I would have never discovered it without the microscope and needle probes.

 

5b5e979226db4_IMG_1826adj.thumb.jpg.2f086a49d24fba0464cb6cee7966638d.jpg

 

Close-up of head.  Note the two compound eyes.

 

5b5e97bef1c6f_IMG_1828adj.thumb.jpg.9212cf318957e6d153fa6513463c4d32.jpg

 

I’ve only been through a couple of pounds of rock, still plenty more to go.  I will keep you posted if I find anything interesting.

 

 

 

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Looks like a very interesting project which should keep you busy, and hopefully happy, for a while. :popcorn: That little bug is already a cool find. Wonder what it is?

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Uncle Siphuncle

I may need to do the same.  Prep builds personal equity that outright purchase of finished specimens simply cannot, at a fraction of the cost of a trip.

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Tidgy's Dad

Looks like great fun to me! :)

Nice finds so far! 

Good luck with the rest. 

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A bit of a drive from California so you did save some moneys.  and you still get to have the fun of going through all that material.  Good luck man. 

 

RB

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minnbuckeye

Nice finds so far. I will be at the florissant quarry Labor Day weekend!! What instrument are you finding most helpful at splitting the shale? Razor blade? As for needing a microscope to see an insect, would there be any hint of it without the scope?

 

Mike

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Sagebrush Steve
3 hours ago, minnbuckeye said:

Nice finds so far. I will be at the florissant quarry Labor Day weekend!! What instrument are you finding most helpful at splitting the shale? Razor blade? As for needing a microscope to see an insect, would there be any hint of it without the scope?

 

Mike

The thin spring steel chisels I bought from Geo-Tools work pretty well:

http://www.geo-tools.com/fossil-rock-chisels/custom-thin-rock-splitting-chisels

The one I use most is 1/16” thick with the bevel on only one side.  Even that one is pretty thick.  I have started using a wide, flat-bladed X-acto knife to separate the thinner layers.  But that blade can be dangerous if you’re not careful, so I keep my hands away and only give it light taps.  If you go to the Quarry to dig they will loan you tools.  And I use needle probes from Paleotools in a pin vise for doing the final prep work: https://www.paleotools.com/pin-vise-and-needles.  Despite what you might think, you still need to clean up quite a bit of shale (carefully!) away from the fossil after you have split the shale.

 

As for magnification, the photos I took through the microscope were at 6X and 12X, so a 10X hand loupe should be fine.  Just take your time and don’t throw anything away without inspecting it.

 

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minnbuckeye

@Sagebrush Steve, Thanks for the advice. Is it similar to splitting Green River fish  layer in Wyoming??

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Sagebrush Steve
33 minutes ago, minnbuckeye said:

@Sagebrush Steve, Thanks for the advice. Is it similar to splitting Green River fish  layer in Wyoming??

Sort of, but the Florissant shale is more fragile and if you’re not careful you you will break it right in the middle of a fossil.  Also, the fossils are more of a residue rather than anything solid.  (Not a surprise since plants and insects don’t have bones!). So you have to be very careful with the prep.  If you accidentally slide across the fossil with your tool it will wipe it away where the tool struck.  That’s why I prefer to do the final prep under a microscope so I can be very careful about where I scrape.  Of course I spent much of my career designing tiny microwave microelectronic circuits so I am very comfortable using a scope and pretty much useless without it. :)

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minnbuckeye

Being a veterinarian, I too use a scope many times a day, However, I need a different type to look at fossils. Maybe this trip will make me purchase one!! @GeschWhat has shown me from her visit what can be discovered with a scope.

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Sagebrush Steve
58 minutes ago, minnbuckeye said:

@GeschWhat has shown me from her visit what can be discovered with a scope.

Lucky you!  Does she use the same one proctologists use?

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I don't think it's like green river stuff at all.  It's almost more like a book with pages stuck together.  I prefer to use a razor blade.  I've also soaked it in water, and when it dries it's sometimes easier to split.

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Xiphactinus

I’ve never used anything larger than a razor blade in the Florissant shale. It slows you down and you look closer. I found a ton of tiny insects this way. 

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It reminds me of the matrix from the Conasauga Formation in GA where I collect trilobites.

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Sagebrush Steve
2 hours ago, Ramo said:

I don't think it's like green river stuff at all.  It's almost more like a book with pages stuck together.  I prefer to use a razor blade.  I've also soaked it in water, and when it dries it's sometimes easier to split.

I will try that.

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Sagebrush Steve
1 hour ago, Xiphactinus said:

I’ve never used anything larger than a razor blade in the Florissant shale. It slows you down and you look closer. I found a ton of tiny insects this way. 

Agreed, I'm using the flat X-acto knife and my needle probes pretty much exclusively now.  Here is my latest find, it is very tiny, only 1.5 mm long.  Insect body?  Seed cone?  Eocene equivalent of a WWII bomb?

 

5b5fa86d5113d_IMG_1837adj.jpg.44c936c23f8ccf4d27d58bbf7852f6b0.jpg

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20 hours ago, Sagebrush Steve said:

The Florissant Fossil Quarry in Florissant, Colorado, has been on my list of places to visit.  It is just outside the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument west of Colorado Springs.  As much as I would have liked to go dig at the quarry, I knew that wouldn’t happen this year.  So I decided to order some shale from the quarry and have it shipped to me.  Even at $7.50 per pound plus shipping it was less expensive to buy the shale than to spend a week on the road getting there and back from California.  After emailing Nancy Anderson at the quarry to work out the details, I mailed off my check for 20 pounds of shale and received two boxes by priority mail about a week later.  I have only just started going through it but I thought I would give you this early update.

 

The quarry is known for its plant and insect fossils, with an occasional fish or bird.  These fossils come from the Eocene epoch, about 34 million years ago.  The quarry’s website doesn’t go into stratigraphy but according to the National Monument website the fossils in the quarry come from the Lower Shale Unit of the Florissant Formation, which does not appear in the park itself.

 

5b5e9493eb859_IMG_1766adj.jpg.c8f3bd7f49079303f4342e08c8b5079d.jpg

 

First thing I did was weigh the boxes and as expected, I got what I ordered plus maybe a little bit more. 

5b5e94e2a3560_IMG_1765adj.jpg.e24bba9d10ab0c92f924a56d126f86cf.jpg

 

Here is what one of the boxes looks like when opened.  Only a small portion of the shale is spread out on the blue tarp, there is much more still in the bag.

 

5b5e95184f808_IMG_1770adj.jpg.7fd61beae95ed0241005cb71466b4437.jpg

 

Here’s the instruction sheet that came in the box.  They recommend preserving it with a mix of 1 part Elmer’s glue to 2 parts water, then coating with clear Krylon.  The shale is easily fractured so I definitely want to protect it, but if anyone has better recommendations, let me know.

 

5b5e954b9b4d7_IMG_1768adj.thumb.jpg.23bd0759934696e60bce3a5e8eefaff0.jpg

 

Here’s a typical piece.  The thin bands of shale are separated by an occasional layer of what one reference calls tufaceous siltstone.  There are no identifiable fossils in the siltstone, they are all in the thin layers of shale.

 

5b5e957a43eb6_IMG_1772adj.jpg.83e1cf485598ba06123e48a30ef3a13b.jpg

 

I decided to throw together a fixture to help hold the shale while I was splitting it.  I just took a few boards I had laying around and using clamps and screws, created a corner against which I could set the rock in place.  I have a thin spring steel chisel I originally bought to split Green River fish that works pretty well for the first round of splits.

 

5b5e95e3d0665_IMG_1818adj.thumb.jpg.5aef1daa9c0cd17348f8b8114c417a0b.jpg

 

Close-up of fixture.

 

5b5e962106576_IMG_1814adj.thumb.jpg.8fa8221c9cf66c28fb71787e3943d2f5.jpg

 

I soon realized I need to use a microscope and needle probes to really find things and clean them up.  Here is my microscope setup.

 

5b5e965f8ef38_IMG_1834adj.jpg.22f01661ffa6b957076ace9a16981b4a.jpg

 

A lot of the shale has unidentifiable bits and pieces of organic material, but I’ve already started discovering a few interesting things. 

5b5e96aabbe6f_IMG_1835adj.jpg.8b78c2d3ab4457edd2ce062fda1100d5.jpg

 

Here are a couple of partial leaf fossils.

5b5e971580d0c_IMG_1812adj.jpg.2be78e579fe5a27760d765d6ad351914.jpg

 

Here is another well-defined leaf that looks something like a willow.

 

5b5e96f049d03_IMG_1823adj.thumb.jpg.e7f3407ad4e982e01ea07520b92edb10.jpg

 

Here’s the most interesting thing I’ve found so far.  It looks like some sort of winged insect.  It is pretty small and I would have never discovered it without the microscope and needle probes.

 

5b5e979226db4_IMG_1826adj.thumb.jpg.2f086a49d24fba0464cb6cee7966638d.jpg

 

Close-up of head.  Note the two compound eyes.

 

5b5e97bef1c6f_IMG_1828adj.thumb.jpg.9212cf318957e6d153fa6513463c4d32.jpg

 

I’ve only been through a couple of pounds of rock, still plenty more to go.  I will keep you posted if I find anything interesting.

 

 

 

Wow...the detail on those eyes is amazing! What kind of microscope is that? It looks like a nice one.

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6 hours ago, Sagebrush Steve said:

Lucky you!  Does she use the same one proctologists use?

LOL...I now have a biological microscope as well as my scanning scope, so yes! :D

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Sagebrush Steve
10 minutes ago, GeschWhat said:

Wow...the detail on those eyes is amazing! What kind of microscope is that? It looks like a nice one.

I call it my Frankenscope, pieced together from various online purchases.  The scope body is a Wild M5 from the 1970s.  Back then it sold new for $1500.  I got it for very much less some years ago, but it didn’t have a stand or eyepieces.  The stand is from an old Bausch and Lomb scope, and I machined my own adapter to make it fit.  The eyepieces were some generic brand that I found out after I bought them that they don’t work with this scope.  But some more time in the shop to machine down the eyepiece barrels and make some custom spacers and you would never know there was a problem.  I’d love to compare it to an Amscope, which seems to be the go-to brand for this forum.

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minnbuckeye

Your ability to create a one of a kind microscope is impressive!

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Sagebrush Steve
21 minutes ago, GeschWhat said:

LOL...I now have a biological microscope as well as my scanning scope, so yes! :D

I’ll give you a wide berth at the next fossil show. :)

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Sagebrush Steve
2 minutes ago, minnbuckeye said:

Your ability to create a one of a kind microscope is impressive!

When you spend as much as I did for all the pieces you better make it work or you will be in trouble with your wife. :shrug:

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1 minute ago, Sagebrush Steve said:

I call it my Frankenscope, pieced together from various online purchases.  The scope body is a Wild M5 from the 1970s.  Back then it sold new for $1500.  I got it for very much less some years ago, but it didn’t have a stand or eyepieces.  The stand is from an old Bausch and Lomb scope, and I machined my own adapter to make it fit.  The eyepieces were some generic brand that I found out after I bought them that they don’t work with this scope.  But some more time in the shop to machine down the eyepiece barrels and make some custom spacers and you would never know there was a problem.  I’d love to compare it to an Amscope, which seems to be the go-to brand for this forum.

Wow, sounds like a lot of work. I'm not that talented. What I like about yours is that it seems like it has the clearance to look at larger specimens. I have a Celestron 20x-40x, which I love, but have pretty much worn out the knobs used for focusing. I have to turn the top and put a heavy rock on the base in order to look at larger pieces. I think I need to see if Santa will get me an upgrade. I picked up a new (in the box) vintage Fisher Micromaster cellular scope a few months back for $50 on the Facebook Marketplace. It originally listed for $1500, so I was pretty excited to find it. I don't know how old it is, but the manual shows a 35mm camera setup for the photo tube. It is a wonderful scope, but I don't use it nearly as much as I do the scanning scope - but for that price, I don't have to use it much to get my money's worth. 

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