EARTH Magazine–Travels in Geology: Hike to the Burgess Shale!

Trilobite fossils from the Burgess Shale

Trilobite fossils from the Burgess Shale

This past summer my dad and I made a pilgrimage to one of the most famous fossil localities in the world: British Columbia’s Burgess Shale. My Travels in Geology feature story for EARTH magazine appears in the January issue:

Of all the famous fossil localities in the world — Mongolia’s Flaming Cliffs, Tanzania’s Olduvai Gorge, Wyoming’s Green River, Germany’s Solnhöfn Quarry — perhaps none is as widely celebrated as British Columbia’s Burgess Shale. High in the Canadian Rockies, the Burgess Shale contains some of the oldest and most exquisitely detailed fossils of early life on Earth. Visiting the Burgess Shale requires some preparation — you must hire a guide and hike 22 kilometers at high elevation — but for a fossil enthusiast, the payoff is worth every step.

EARTH_Jan2013_onlinePDF

As a general rule, the fossil record is dominated by hard parts: shells, teeth and bones. The Burgess fossils, however, reveal so much more. Small but exquisite, the fossils preserve fine details of soft body structures like gills and eyes and even last meals: tiny trilobites encapsulated in stone, for example, deep in the visible guts of larger worm-like predators.

The Burgess Shale quarries are famous not just for the sheer number and variety of fossils and their rare and lovely preservation, but also for the window they open to the past. Multicellular life evolved on Earth about 570 million years ago with a bang known as the Cambrian Explosion, just 65 million years before the Burgess assemblage formed.

Click here to read the rest of the article on the EARTH website.

My dad sorts through shale slabs at the famous Walcott Quarry. In the hour we spent at the quarry, we found dozens of fossils!

My dad sorts through shale slabs at the famous Walcott Quarry. In the hour we spent at the quarry, we found dozens of fossils!

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in Big Sky, Montana. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at www.marycapertonmorton.com.
This entry was posted in Beyond the USA, Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Science Writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to EARTH Magazine–Travels in Geology: Hike to the Burgess Shale!

  1. beeseeker says:

    New year and a reminder of passing time, fine article, thanks for sharing and, er as per usual, love the images.

  2. Elisa says:

    OH I’m soooo happy for your article and its placement!!! Covers, my, my!

  3. Chris Major says:

    Fantastic article!
    I am lucky enough to live on what is refered to as the Dinosaur coast in UK. Your post has inspired me to go seek out some fossils, It’s been too long since I last combed the beach.
    Thank you

  4. What a fantastic place to discover and Congratulations for your published article ! Now I want to get up to BC and visit the shale as well.

  5. ritaroberts says:

    I loved this article Mary as I collect fossils.Your posts throughout 2012 have been awe inspiring,so well presented and I envy your lifestyle. Have a Happy New Year and good luck with your travels. I look forward to your 2013 posts.

  6. Excellent article, Mary, I love fossils. While growing up in the Finger Lakes in NY State, we would occasionally run across fossils in the lake. I have often wondered why I have not been able to find fossils in a shale field, now I know. I can’t help wondering how hard it must be to walk in the area as every shale field I have been in is as slippery as ice.

  7. gtonthenet says:

    A place I’ve always wanted to visit, ever since I bought a copy of Steven Jay Goulds book about the Burgess Shale – very jealous!

  8. Nanook says:

    Ack!!!! I’m so glad you were freshly pressed so that I could read your blog! I’m SO going to the Burgess Shale!!! New to Canada! That is right up my alley!!! Thanks!

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