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Blog A Treasure Of A Different Kind At The Fossil Discovery Center
Alex Silgalis | 02/01/2022Museums, History & Culture |   

A Treasure Of A Different Kind At The Fossil Discovery Center

Ancient bones... especially dinosaur ones... fascinate many, both the young and old alike. And with the popularity over the years of all the Jurassic Park movies, it may make you wonder "have there been any other fossils discovered that aren’t dinosaurs" (or Wooly Mammoths of the "Ice Age" movies)?  Animals right here in central California? Well the answer to all those questions is a resounding YES! And you can see many examples of them at the Fossil Discovery Center of Madera County..

How Did This ‘Gold Mine’ Of Fossils Come To Be

On a quiet stretch of Highway 99 between the towns of Chowchilla and Madera is the small community of Fairmead and where, what many thought, was a normal landfill. That all changed in 1993, when a piece of treasure was unearthed that shook-up the paleontological world. A sanitation worker found an actual tusk of a Columbian Mammoth. The experts were called in to see what other fossils or artifacts could be found.

Paleontologist following an earth mover at the Fairmead Landfill  

Discovery Leads To Foundations & Museum

Columbian Mammoth at the Fossil Discovery CenterFollowing the initial find, many fossils were soon unearthed. So much so that the San Joaquin Paleontology Foundation was immediately formed in 1993. Over the following years, many more fossils have been unearthed. Currently more than 15,000 have been recovered with the most as recent in 2019).

In 2010, the Fossil Discovery Center was created to give visitors and students a unique opportunity to learn what prehistoric life was like in the area.

It’s All About The Last Ice Age

This discovery isn’t one that contains dinosaurs but rather is from the Middle-Pleistocene era. The largest of its kind in North America. Middle-Pleistocene means that the fossils are from somewhere between 500,000 to 780,000 years old which was during the last ice age.

What You Will See

The discovery center gives you a unique chance to see animals that you may never have known existed in California. Fossils such as Saber-Toothed Cats and Giant Sloths. Fossils with TEETH marks from Dire Wolves and Short-faced Bears. A 13-foot tall replica of a Columbian Mammoth and one of a Western Camel. California didn’t have just one camel species either… it had EIGHT.

For kids though, the highlight will be the mock dig site. They can experience and enjoy what it takes to find and preserve fossils.

Mock dig site Fossil Discovery Center of Madera

Sabre-toothed cat skull "found" at Mock Dig Site

The FDC - the Starting Point of the Fossils to Falls Round Trip

The Fossil Discovery Center a great place in of itself, it's also an ideal spot to start a road trip that will take you through Madera County and up into Yosemite National Park. Known as the the Fossil to Falls Road Trip (FtFRT), there's so much to see and do along this journey (e.g.  wine tasting, boating, bird watching, historic train riding, etc...), frankly too much to spell out here. But good news - it is all outlined in our Fossils to Falls Road Trip Itinerary. Before you head out on your road trip, make sure to pick up a Mr. Mead trading card. You'll only need one more Welcoming Committee member trading card to be able to enter our Yosemite Adventure Contest.  Good luck and happy exploring! 

Other Local Museums To Visit

While the Fossil Discovery Center is a star of the county’s museums, it is not the only one. The Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad's Thornberry Museum gives you an up-close look at pioneer life of the late 19th and early 20th century in the Sierra Nevada. The Sierra Mono Museum and Cultural Center in North Fork, is the only Native American Cultural Museum in the area and one of very few that exist nation-wide.  The center shares the Mono tribe's history, cultural traditions and language through a variety of programming and preservation of material culture. 

To learn more about these and other unique museums in Madera County, read our article: They’re Not A Place Of Artifacts, They’re A Place Of Ideas.

If you’re on your way up to Yosemite or coming back, be sure to make a pit stop at the Fossil Discovery Center. From children to grandparents, everyone that visits will come home with a sense of wonder, a bit of joy, and most of all a smile.

Alex Silgalis

Alex founded® in 2014 to be the #1 website providing the “local scoop” on where to eat, drink & play in mountain towns throughout North America. When he’s not writing and executing marketing strategies for small businesses & agencies, he’s in search of the deepest snow in the winter and tackiest dirt in the summer.

Our annual Visit Yosemite | Madera County Visitors Guide can answer all your questions about visiting California's Gateway to Yosemite. From the park itself to the museums, wineries, art galleries and more throughout Madera County, our guide can help you plan the perfect vacation. Please note that we mail to the USA only, but anyone can download the guide.
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