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Lost in Time in Kemmerer, Wyoming’s Fossil Basin

Dig up your own piece of history after leaving Yellowstone.

Drive south of Grand Teton National Park, and you will stumble on a wonderfully uncrowded national monument unlike any national park site you’ve visited.

Fossil Butte National Monument is a unique National Park Service gem 15 miles west of the Kemmerer/Diamondville area (pronounced “Kemmer”). Instead of the huge mountain peaks of the parks to its north, you’ll discover a high desert landscape that’s home to incredibly preserved fossils of ancient turtles, birds, snakes and more. In fact, the monument was created in 1972 to protect these ancient animals and plants.

Fossils on Cundick Ridge in Fossil Basin
Fossils on Cundick Ridge in Fossil Butte National MonumentNational Park Service

Start in the visitor center for exhibits on more than 300 fossils, including a crocodile, found in the ancient, 48-million- year-old Fossil Lake, which is now dry. Then, head out to the 2.5-mile Historic Quarry Trail where trail-side exhibits provide information about wildlife, plants and geology. Keep in mind it’s forbidden to remove fossils or disturb artifacts in the national monument.

During the summer, go on a guided tour, see fossil preparation demonstrations or tag along with a paleontologist on Fridays and Saturdays.

If you’re interested in discovering fossils on your own, head to one of the area’s private quarries like Ulrich’s Fossil Gallery. At these private facilities, you can uncover fish, plant and bird fossils for a perfect souvenir. There also are fossils for sale in shops in Kemmerer.

Hunting for fossils at a private quarry near Fossil Basin
Hunting for fossils at a private quarry near Fossil Basin Photo: by Tobey Schmidt courtesy of Herrmann Global

Seedskadee Wildlife Refuge

About 40 minutes from town is Seedskadee Wildlife Refuge. Spanning more than 27,000 acres, the refuge is home to the Green River. Its name means “river of the prairie hen” in Shoshone. This wildlife haven offers more than 250 species of wildlife critical habitat. Stop into the visitor center to learn more about the area and to check out its exhibits. Summer hours are Monday through Friday 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

With shallow and swift water, the river offers great fishing, as well as kayaking and canoeing. Both the Oregon and Mormon trails cross the refuge, and ferries used to help travelers cross the Green River. Today, put your kayak in at Slate Creek Campground and float to Upper Dodge Bottoms Boat Ramp. This will take about thee hours, depending on water flows and wind and the strength of the kayaker.

Seedskadee Refuge in Wyoming
Seedskadee Refuge in Wyoming Photo: by Tobey Schmidt courtesy of Herrmann Global

Visit Historical Triangle Park In Kemmerer

The area also has a rich, more recent history of coal mining, railroads and bootlegging. Take a stroll through the historic Herschler Triangle Park and see the first J.C. Penney store in the nation. It was opened in 1902 by James Cash Penney. His original house in Kemmerer is a museum just down the block from the J.C. Penney store.

Historic Herschler Triangle Park lies in the heart of downtown Kemmerer. The park is named after Gov. Ed Herschler, a Kemmerer resident and former three-term Wyoming governor. His family still operates a cattle ranch in the area.

Then learn about the history of Wyoming at the Fossil Country Frontier Museum. Afterwards, have a drink at The Stock Exchange, a functioning bar since 1902.

The Stock Exchange Bar and Restaurant near Fossil Basin
The Stock Exchange Bar and Restaurant Photo: by Tobey Schmidt courtesy of Herrmann Global

With a population of roughly 2,600 citizens, Kemmerer grew from roots in coal mining, railroads and bootlegging more than 100 years ago. In its former glory, the town’s older houses had secret tunnels under them where people smuggled liquor, which was illegal under Prohibition. Consequently, the town used to be nicknamed “Lil Chicago” as an homage to Al Capone.

What makes Kemmerer/Diamondville special has to be the people. Locals still meet at Triangle Park, where car enthusiasts show off their old vintage cars. They enjoy the farmer’s market hosted on the weekend and wet their whistle at the 115-year-old bar, The Stock Exchange.

More information:
(855) FOSSIL-0
www.fossilbasin.org

Kemmerer Chamber of Commerce
Center of Town Square
1027 US-189, Kemmerer, WY 83101
kemmerer.org