Petrified Wood Fossil Hunt
Calvert Marine Museum Fossil Club
The Calvert Marine Fossil Club extended a field trip invitation to DVPS to go field collecting for petrified wood. Naturally I signed up to see what fossils could be found in Delaware. I wrangled up Kid #3 and Kid #4 for a weekend at Patti’s house and wild adventures in the Slower Lower of Delaware.
This was the first time I would be hunting for petrified wood in this region. I had no idea what this wood even looked like. I had seen petrified wood from the Southwest; rainbow hued strata and very distinctive in color and appearance. I’ve never seen anything like that in the northeast or eastern coastal regions. Reading the field trip details, we would be searching on a No-Till farm. So our collection tools would be our fingers. Seems like a perfect trip for young kids! …they’re closer to the ground and will touch anything. My “tools” were going to be two adorable kids!
Luckily the day of our trip was clear and bright – like only a crisp fall day can produce. Azure skies, a mild breeze, and a reasonably warm sun made it perfect fall weather.
We would have a day of finding alternative treasure, visiting an air force base, running through a preserve, geocaching, and hiking. It was a jammed pack day of adventure, discovery, and exploration.
VERY early start
I woke the little angels very early Saturday morning to give them a hearty meal before our adventurous day. Since I can barely cook on a good day, I decided to go to my favorite café and have someone else make food and coffee. On this very early Saturday morning, I was bleary-eyed and unable to formulate human words. The café owners are amazing people and know me well. The wife arrived at my table with their largest mug of hot coffee in hand and asked me if I want my usual. I smiled and nodded.
It is the small joys in life.
But the kids were with me. And for reasons I’ll never fully comprehend; the kids have more energy than I could ever hope to have… and they use this energy to argue with each other. I would pay good money to have the bright-eyed energy and excitement they possess! I was building up enough energy to squelch the discussion before it escalated to a real argument and tears, but the café owners are parents and expertly handled the kids. Possibly on my behalf! I\’ve been told I have a poker face.
(No, I do not have a poker face. My face is an open book you could read from across the street.)
The wife arrives with special utensils just for the kids – which distracts them instantly. They are charmed by the novelty of the kiddie silverware and the nice lady who was making a big fuss over them, and helping them with their food orders.
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I continued sipping my coffee and silently sending this woman my appreciation and love. She’s a saint.
Once the food arrived, so did the Sibling Rivalry. I stared in disbelief as they nicely competed on eating their pancakes faster. Then eating their hash browns faster. Then drinking their juice faster. If one kid was faster than the other, then the slower kid “won” because they did it better. The owner could only smirk at me while the kids argued over every detail of breakfast, and I kept silently signaling her to refill my coffee mug.
Odessa, Delaware – here we come!
It was time to start our adventure, and the kids were amped up with excitement. While driving to Odessa, DE, we were singing in the car and full of energy. Then some magical switch was flipped, and they both passed out asleep. I was singing solo while they recharged their batteries.
Eventually we arrived and met up with a group of cars and fossil hunts eager to go to the fossil site. A caravan of cars drove to a no-till farm with acres of sprawling corn fields. Parking on the access road, we struck out to search for the elusive fossils.
The corn fields were still quite populated by dried corn stalks and debris. I asked an experience hunter what we should look for, and he picked out a fossil from his collection and said it looks like this. The rock looked exactly like the cord debris covering the ground.
My heart sank! There was no way for us to visually tell the difference between fossils and vegetation. The fields were literally covered in dried, golden brown vegetation – the perfect camouflage to mask the petrified wood. We were advised to bring sticks and ‘tap’ suspicious looking items to see if they are hard or not.
For the first time I grew worried. The kids were so eager to find fossils and I wasn’t sure we would be able to do that in these fields. Frankly, I think it might be impossible! I don’t have a trained-eye to see these fossils, and the debris is dense. Even if the fossil was present, I would have to move debris before I had the chance to see it.
Making the most of it
The day was beautiful and I was determined to make the best of it. So I set loose the kids to go wild in the corn fields. And to my surprise, they were having so much fun! They were having a grand time running through the corn field, playing with the stalks, moving things around and finding bugs. Then they discovered the magic of wild corn. They played with the corn stalks, and kept finding partially eaten corn cobs – and they were hooked. Finding corn-cobs on the ground became the best game that ever existed. Ever. While I hunted for fossils, the kids hunted for corn.
Kid #4 was picking up corn stalks and seeing how far he could throw them, like an Olympic hammer throw. Kid #3 was fascinated by the dried corn cobs found on the ground. They had been left in the field for weeks, so the corn was dried and easily fell from the cob. So finding a nearly perfect corn cob – with the corn! – was soon the newest obsession.
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I had my walking stick and was using it to ‘tap’ suspicious looking objects hoping it might be a fossil. (Spoiler Alert: it was never a fossil, it was always vegetation). The kids collected all the corn they found. There were corn cobs in pockets, in their hoods, in their hands, in MY pockets. Corn was everywhere. And when they couldn’t carry any more, they ran back to the car and dropped their golden loot into the back of Nimbus, and then came back to gather more. We spent hours outside in the fields. I didn’t find a single fossil. But my truck was littered with corn cobs and dried corn kernels.
Another Spoiler Alert: For the next several weeks I kept cleaning the truck, but you could hear the hard little corn kernels rattling around for months.
After several hours, it was time to call it quits. The kids burned up all their energy and they knew I had treats and picnic goodies waiting for them back in the car. So I decided to head back to the car despite not finding a single fossil. As we returned, Bill from the Delaware fossil club approached and asked if we found anything. The kids proudly showed off their best corn cobs. I confessed that nothing fossil-like was found, except emaciated corn kernels.
Bill very generously gave each of us a piece of petrified wood that he personally collected at a construction site nearby. I was stunned by the size of the fossils! I would have been grateful for tiny snippets of wood, just to add it to our collection. But he gave us large pieces, and everyone (including myself) was impressed.
BIG THANKS to generous people who help little kids (and big kids, too) enjoy a big adventure!
Yep – I found this fossil! *wink*
So there we were at the end of our failed hunt holding massive pieces of petrified wood! Although it technically wasn’t a find we could claim we made – I assured they kids that, like fishermen, they were welcome to tell tall-tales about they found it themselves. They didn’t get the joke.
And the greatest joke was a truck full of dried corn which the kids treasured more than the actual fossils. 😉
AKA, Please Touch Everything museum
The day was still young and I don’t consider it an adventure unless we’re out all day! After picnicking, it was off to Dover Air Force Base!
The kids never visited Dover, so for them this was a real treat. I kept telling them they could see and touch airplanes on a real military base, on a real airport field. Well, you\’d think I promised them riches and fame.
Arriving at Dover, there was real excitement when they could see planes parked on the ground. They were in actual awe. It was a real experience for them to get inside cockpits, touch knobs and dials, and pretend they were flying a plane. The kids had huge smiles as we walked around the base and looking up at the bellies of planes, or going inside open-tour planes.
I think the best adventures were inside the museum itself. The museum has accessible airplane seats, cockpits, and a few other \’touchable\’ exhibits. For the kids, it was a giant playground. And that made it amazing and awesome. They flipped switches, turned nobs, adjusted dials, and pushed pedals. There were (pretend) air fights with rat-a-tat gun fire provided by the children themselves, there were impressive conversations between the pilot and some unknown tower in which Kid #4 assured them he was landing not matter what. It really stimulated their imaginations.
What do you mean I won\’t fit??!
At one point while inside the museum, the youngest saw a child sized \”ride\” that he wanted to sit in. But he severely underestimated his size! It was all I could do NOT to laugh hysterically as he tried desperately to jam his legs into the baby seat, and failed to fit. The look on his face says everything:
Saint Jones Preserve
Unfortunately they really wanted to run across the tarmac. Which I couldn’t allow. The AFB doesn’t want kids running wild, which I understand. After hours of excitement, it was time to blow off some steam.
Geocaching and Hiking
I knew of a nearby nature preserve which we could hike and geocache. So after we explored the AFB about as much as their short-attention spans could handle, I took them over to the Saint Jones Reserve to let them run wild.
This was another good walk and leg-stretching adventure. For the kids, the boardwalk was the equivalent of an amusement park. There were signs they could interact with, and crabs to stare at, and birds to chase, and tall plants that made noises in the cold air. This was the best entertainment around!
When they saw the scientific equipment, they were amazed at the spinning whizzing noises. We found a sign explanation what the weather station was and how it worked. And then they just stared at it. For – like – ever.
Boardwalk, Crabs and Birds
We walked the whole length of the boardwalk and then the back trail so that they could find the geocaches hidden there.
The trail was empty, so I let them run wild as long as they kept me in their eyesight. Which was perfect. They ran as far as the trail would let them (before bending), and then they’d turn back and run back to me, only to repeat the entire cycle over. Until I turned the bend as I walked along the trail, and the pattern repeated. After an hour, they really burned off some energy, and we managed to read all of the wildlife signage on the way back to the truck.
After everyone got their exercise in for the day, I decided to hit the slow road home. We took the byway route along the Delaware Bay, and stopped a few places along the way to watch the sun set or to climb birding observation decks.
At the end of the day, everyone was happy, satisfied, and proud. The kids loved their new fossils and their golden kernels of dried corn. I was very pleased by the adventures we all shared. And inspired by this, I ran to a craft store and put the fossils in shadow boxes with our photos to commemorate the day we shared. I took them home and returned them to their parents exhausted and full of stories. Not to mention buckets of corn which they took in to share with their unwitting parents.
And that’s what life’s all about: shared experiences and memories. And corn. Fossils, too.