Years ago I discovered a fun and surprisingly cheap way to spend a day, one that has left my family with years of memories and a few rather durable souvenirs. This was back when my daughter was smaller and all things prehistoric fascinated her beyond compare, and while she enjoyed museums I knew she might enjoy something a bit more ‘hands-on’. That’s when I discovered an amazing but little known detail about certain regions of New Jersey: they’re brimming with Late Cretaceous era (that’s roughly 67-74 Million Years Old) fossils! And not ‘bake in a desert with picks and brushes’ fossils, but wade in shady ankle deep brooks and pick them right up fossils. Yes, readers, it’s true. Spots such as Big Brook, Ramanessin Brook and surrounding brooks in Monmouth County, right off the Garden State Parkway, will provide small (and not so small) children more fossils than they’d ever imagine. The majority of these fossils are shark teeth and other marine fossils exposed as the brooks and creeks cut down into the fossil beds, revealing an ever-changing layer. It’s a wonderfully cool way to spend a hot summer day, peaceful and tranquil aside from the squeals of “I found another one!” and I can promise it will become a favorite tradition, one your children will remember even after they’re grown.
The only ‘tools’ we brought were plastic colanders picked up in the grocery store and large serving spoons for scooping river gravel into the colanders. Half the time we didn’t even need them, we spotted fossils right in plain view. As with sea-shells and beach glass, the rule was we would each only take our five favorite treasures home, the rest were returned to the brook. Do use caution as some areas of these streams can become deep… just stick to the shallows, that’s where you’ll find the most. Bring a small first aid kit, there are overhanging branches and there can be sharp bits in the gravel and an occasional, unfortunate piece of broken glass. My advice: Wear comfy old sneakers you don’t mind mucking up, jeans to protect your legs and a tee shirt. Don’t forget your bug spray, some towels and a change of dry clothes for the trip home.
There are a number of resources online to guide you both in where and how to look and to identify what you’ve found.
For more information, here’s a start: