Shark teeth in the Sulphur River? Yes! In fact, I’ve even found a Mosasaur tooth! Located near Ladonia, Texas, the North Sulfur River Fossil Area is a paleontologist’s dream. An ancient sea once covered east Texas and specifically in Ladonia, the conditions were perfect for fossil preservation. Additionally, the Caddo Indigenous population inhabited the area for centuries prior. It’s a beacon for fossil hunters, both professional and amateur alike.
Ironically, the fossils were discovered by accident. In the 1920’s, the North Sulphur River was significantly smaller and more shallow. It was a narrow and winding river that was prone to flooding. In an attempt to create more tillable farmland and improve water flow from storm runoff, a channel was dredged in the middle of the river. Originally only twenty feet wide, it accelerated the erosion problems in the river and it’s now over three hundred feet wide. However, that dredging failure is how the fossils were discovered. The fossils in the Ladonia Fossil Area on the North Sulphur River date back to the Cretaceous period and up to the Pliocene epoch. There are lots of marine bivalve fossils such as ammonites and baculites. There are even shark teeth and most excitingly, mosasaur teeth.
We have been several times and I would recommend saving your expedition for the cooler weather of the fall, winter, or spring. Summer is just too hot and dry to safely explore. Remember your “ten essentials” anytime you’re headed out for an adventure.
There are a few things to remember as you prep for your fossil hunting adventure at the North Sulphur River:
1) Check the river level before you go, a simple Internet search for the “North Sulfur River water level ” will take you to the Army Corps of Engineer’s website. The water level needs to be two feet or below to safely dig. The area is prone to flash flooding, so check the weather as well.
2) The ramp down to the riverbed can be slick and potentially muddy.
3) There is no shade on the riverbed and because of that it can get exceedingly hot and dangerous. Take more water than you think you need, wear sun hats and sunglasses, and consider bringing an umbrella to give shade for younger children. We all use a Camelbak water bladder in our backpacks while we hike and dig. Leave extra water in your car for the drive home.
4) There are also no bathrooms, so be prepared to squat behind some trees. Please practice Leave No Trace principles and pack out any toilet paper if used.
5) Pack a lunch and lots of snacks. Snacks are a powerful bargaining chip for tired kiddos to gain you some extra time to fossil hunt.
6) Wear waterproof shoes with good grip, or an old pair of running shoes. The riverbed can be very slippery and simple rain boots are too slippery. Plan on getting wet.
7) You do not need any special tools, though a screwdriver may be helpful if you are wanting to dig out of the clay and mud on the walls of the riverbed. Bring along a container to protect your fossil finds.
8) A comfortable backpack to carry everything in, one you don’t mind getting dirty.
9) You’re in nature. There will be wildlife. We have only seen one small, non-venomous snake, however in the hot summer months there may be snakes of all kinds as well as hogs. Be aware of your surroundings and consider bringing a hiking pole or stick. Or, in our case, an old nine iron. It works great for moving snakes or using to get up and down the steep embankments.
10) Have fun!!! There are few places in the world where you can legally collect fossils and we are lucky enough to be only two hours away from a prime paleontology hotspot!
The best time to go is just after a hard rain, once the waters recede. Please remember to be respectful of other fossil explorers and keep pets on leash when there are other people around, keep loud music to a minimum, and carry out all trash. Happy adventuring!
Ladonia, TX is about two hours west of Texarkana and a little over an hour northeast of Prosper, Texas.
Never afraid of a long drive, Nichole is a homeschooling mom to two and wife to Ryan. Coffee, always, and black please. You can probably find her scheming up their next road trip while hiking in the woods. Experience based learning and good books abound in their homeschool, as they chase the spark of curiosity where it wanders on the road less traveled. See more shenanigans on her Instagram @coleyraeh.