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Dig it!

Looking for a fun, indoor place to visit this fall or winter? Just outside the 209 is the Fossil Discovery Center, located in Chowchilla. Fossil Discovery Center is home to some of the most historic finds in fossils and those findings are on display for visitors to enjoy. The finds were discovered at the Fairmead Landfill in Madera County, which is directly across the street from the Fossil Discovery Center. The center itself opened in 2010.

In 1993, a landscaper working in the landfill discovered discoloration in the soil during earth removal. An eight-foot mammoth tusk was discovered and officials from The Museum of Paleontology at University of California, Berkeley were called to the site. Since that day the partnership between the two organizations has been strong and paleontologists still work in the landfill to see what lies beneath the soil.

“It’s an amazing feeling when you discover a fossil, no matter how large or small it is,” said paleontologist Blake Bufford.

He has found many fossils over the years at the landfill and several of them are on display at Fossil Discovery Center.

“It’s an amazing feeling knowing that you discovered something and that your eyes are the first to see it. I’ve been digging for years and I still get as excited as I did the first time that I found something,” Bufford added.

The Fossil Discovery Center offers tours of the facility where visitors will see actual fossils and bones, along with a variety of replicas of creatures from the Ice Age. Among the replicas on display are mammoths, ground sloths, saber tooth cat, dire wolf and short faced bear. Also featured is a tribute to the first female paleontologist, Mary Anning.

“Mary was the first female paleontologist and quite the pioneer,” said staff member Mick Broadhead. “She and her dog Tray would go on many expeditions together. Her discoveries include the first ichthyosaur skeleton when she was 12. I credit her with the discovery of the hard hat or safety hat as well. One day she and Tray went on an expedition and Tray tragically died while on the job. This got her thinking how dangerous her job and adventures truly are. So, she started wearing a felt, bowler hat that had a hard top.”

The Fossil Discovery Center is very busy during the school year. They host over 100 kids a day as local school districts reserve the facility for field trips. Although many items are for viewing only, there are some hands-on activities for kids to do.

Outside the center is a “digging site,” a large sand area where kids can grab shovels and a brush to search for fossils.

“There are about 20 replica fossils in the area where kids can dig and have their own discoveries. They really love it,” said Broadhead.

Other outside activities include a pond, a replica Native American hut and more. There is also a gift shop available for purchasing souvenirs.

The Fossil Discovery Center is located at 19450 Avenue 21½, Chowchilla. For more information visit, download the app “Fossil Discovery Center” or call (559) 665-7107.