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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.

By Accident

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!

Pro-Tip

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!

There is no fee to visit. For more information, look up the “Ladonia Fossil Park” on Facebook or check the Dallas Paleontological Society’s website HERE.

Ladonia, TX is about two hours west of Texarkana and a little over an hour northeast of Prosper, Texas.

There are hidden gems and wonderful places to discover in every state, and state parks in Oklahoma are no exception. Beavers Bend State Park, near Hochatown, Oklahoma is an over 3,000 acre state park that boasts some of the most stunning landscapes in the eastern half of  the state. The Lower Mountain Fork River runs through the park and provides ample opportunities for floating, boating, as well as fishing and fly fishing. Nearby Broken Bow lake is a large and beautiful lake for even more boating and water recreation. The state park also operates a 40 room lodge, as well as rental cabins, RV sites, and tent sites. It’s a wonderful place for families to explore, with a miniature train to ride, seasonal horseback riding, miniature golf, boat rentals, a swim beach, and more. The Forest Heritage Museum has dioramas depicting the history of the area, painted by the Smokey Bear artist, Harry Rossoll. The museum has a wealth of history and information, as well as an art museum, which sometimes features wood cutting art from local artisans.

Beaver’s Bend Nature Center

One of our favorite stops is the Beaver’s Bend Nature Center, a charming building that houses hands-on learning opportunities. Here you can touch a variety of natural specimens like feathers, turtle shells, antlers, snake sheds, and more. There are often naturalist or ranger led programs that take place around a campfire by the river when the weather is right. Plus, check the schedule for arts and crafts programs and guided nature hikes.

Explore Hiking Trails

There are also multiple hiking trails at the park, ranging from less than a mile to ten miles. We’ve explored them all but our favorite trail is the strenuous and “expert” rated Skyline trail. The trail weaves through, up, down, and around the entire park, joining several trails together and offering incredible views of the river along the way. Do not underestimate this hike! Yes, our children have done it, but they are not novice hikers and have regularly hiked many 6 to 8 mile hikes before we took them on this trail. It is a beautiful hike that will push you and take you to some gorgeous views, up and down mountains, and beside a beautiful creek. One tip, the last mile and a half of hike is on paved road to get back to your vehicle.

Here are a few things to keep in mind for this hike:

  • Remove or hide all valuables from your car when you are leaving.
  • Pro tip: stash a change of clothes for everyone and a salty snack for the ride home, in the trunk. Plus extra water.
  • Use an app like AllTrails or Gaia to download an offline version of the map before you begin hiking. Cell service is spotty and having an offline map is helpful for navigation purposes.
  • In the AllTrails app, you can look up the Skyline Trail and begin navigating. It will show where you are on the trail and you can course correct if you veer off.
  • Carry plenty of water, using a water bladder like a Camelbak in your backpack to save on space and weight.
  • Remember the Ten Essentials.
  • Carry extra snacks to help encourage everyone to keep going. Sometimes we play a game where we take a bite of a good snack (like a GoMacro bar) every mile or every half mile.
  • Sing songs as you walk, tell a story as you walk, talking makes the miles pass by and it’s a great way to build into your relationships.
  • This trail is best hiked in the fall through the spring, avoid the summer month’s due to heat and insects.
  • Wear bug spray and tick repellent.
  • Be aware of your surroundings and the weather, bring raincoats if rain is suspected and be mindful of trails becoming dangerous in wet conditions.
  • There are several water crossings that may become difficult after a hard rain, in high water.
  • Start your hike early so you have plenty of time to hike in the daylight, the hike can easily take five to six hours depending on your pace.
  • Remember to take photos and enjoy your journey!

Keep in Mind

This trail is not suitable for young children and novice hikers. There are some very steep ascents and descents, as well as portions along cliffs and water crossings. If you’d like to hike at Beaver’s Bend State Park with younger children, I would recommend the Lookout Mountain Loop, the Tree Trail, the Spill Way Loop, Friends Loop, or Lakeview Lodge trail. For any hike you embark on, please remember to practice Leave No Trace principles, carry out what you carry in, do not shortcut switchbacks, and be respectful of the natural environment or any animals you may encounter.

Beaver’s Bend State Park is a treasure in southeast Oklahoma, that’s worth visiting all year round. Don’t’ forget to check the Forest Heritage Center Facebook page for program offerings and events!