Fossil Lake

Season Dates:  All Year
Fees:  None
Coordinates: 43.3278716,-120.4902564

Discovered (sort of) by Oregon’s first governor, the dry lakebed in south-central Oregon’s Lake County is a gold mine of Ice Age fossils, from tiny rodents to wooly mammoths, saber-tooth cats and dire wolves

Fossil Lake today is really nothing more than a low spot in the high desert. But once, a few hundred thousand years ago, it was part of a single huge lake, more than 100 feet deep, that included the areas we know today as Silver Lake and Christmas Lake.

Over the years, it got deeper and shallower with the seasons; like most Lake County lakes, it had no outlet, so minerals and salts concentrated in its waters.

This is apparently how so many animals came to be preserved in it. Crossing a mud flat to get to the water, they got stuck, sank and died; the salts in the water essentially pickled the animals, retarding the natural processes of decomposition; and over time, the bones petrified — although many of the specimens found there were still new enough that they hadn’t turned to stone yet.