Republic, Washington is just a few miles south of the Canadian border. It’s a very small town: one grocery store, one drug store, two each of restaurants and hardware stores, all on one street. Mining, agriculture and timber are what sustain it. They have a nice little library that offers wireless internet service. We went there because of the fossils--the town, not the library.
You’ll find fossils at Stonerose. The Interpretive Center occupies an old house (they have a sign that says, “Don’t drink the water; we have lead pipes”) opposite the small city park. In the interpretive center, they have fossil specimens that have been found in Republic as well as fossils found elsewhere.
The plants and animals found in the shale in Republic lived nearly 50 million years ago at a time known as the Eocene Epoch. At that time, the area around Republic was part of a huge lake. Over time, as plants or animals died and fell to the bottom of the lake, they were covered up with sediment that built up layer upon layer.
The logo for Stonerose is a flower fossil that looks like a rose but isn’t a rose at all. It’s a member of the plant family that cocoa comes from. At the time it died and drifted to the bottom of the lake, the Pacific Northwest wasn't like it is today. The Cascade Mountains hadn’t been pushed up to block the flow of warm, moist Pacific air, so the vegetation was much different from what grows there now.
If you want to dig fossils in the fossil beds, you must first visit the interpretive center and have a small orientation. This will save you a lot of heartache, because they show you how to differentiate between sandstone (no fossils) and shale (contains fossils). You can bring your own tools, but if you didn’t have the foresight to bring a hammer and a cold chisel, they will rent you some at a nominal price.
Then they send you a block and a half up the hill and across the highway to the shale beds. The process is to sit down, take a piece of shale, hold it between your feet with the cold chisel on the edge, and tap the chisel. It takes a bit of doing, but soon the shale splits in two. If you are incredibly lucky, you will have a fossil of a plant or fish or animal. If not, you either split that piece of shale in another place, or you take another one and tap, tap, tap along the edge.
I didn’t find any fossils in my rocks. My husband, Derrill, found one. A couple of ladies there were having some of that incredible luck and left after about fifteen minutes with their quota of three fossils each. I suspect they were plants from the interpretive center, trying to make us think we’d all be that successful.
When you are through splitting rocks, you take what you have found back to the interpretive center where one of the volunteers will tell you what you found.
Our fossil was Chamaecyparis, which in layman’s terms is False-cypress.
When we brought the fossil home, my son-in-law who collects conifers got very excited and went and picked a twig from his False-cypress tree to compare. Sure enough, it was an exact match.
I’m so grateful for the service that Stonerose gives to the people of central Washington. School kids come from surrounding towns to learn and to spend time digging in the beds. It’s a great hands-on experience for people of any age.
If you look on a map, you’ll see that Republic isn’t handy to go through, but if you get a chance, take advantage of this out-of-the-way, gem of an interpretive center.
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