Fact or Fiction
Overview: This hike is located within the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park in central Nevada. The park was established in 1957 to preserve two very different events. This hike will start at the fossil shelter which protects the Ichthyosaur site dig and will continue thru Richmond Canyon which is home to some of the largest and the most concentrated collection of Ichthyosaur fossils in North America. The Berlin Town site Trail documents the second of the two historical events of this area.
History: Attention to the Union Canyon area started in 1863 when some prospectors located silver. Slow to develop because of its remoteness, the momentum didn't pick up until 1896 when gold was discovered. At the height of activity there was 200 - 250 living in the area. When people left and talked about life in the Shoshone Mountains they often mentioned some of the strange rocks that were found in the region. Eventually archeologists' arrived and spoke with residents about these strange rocks. Several residents actually had some of these "rocks" in their homes. Some used them as door stops, others as ashtrays. The year was 1928 and these strange rocks were not rocks at all but parts of the vertebrae of an Ichthyosaur. The Ichthyosaur is sometimes referred to as a fish-lizard. The species was very successful and lived so long that it evolved and those facts are documented in fossils of this animal that have been found on most of the continents of the world. The animal was an ocean dweller and had lungs and is believed to at one point in history lived on land as a lizard and evolved back to the sea. The fossils located here clearly show it had evolved into a fish. Fossils from two feet to over fifty feet have been located. The trailhead elevation is about 7000 feet. How did the nine collectively in the fossil shelter dig and thirty two others located in the park get to this resting place. This will be something to dwell on for the hike.
Hike: At the trailhead there is parking for a dozen cars and there is a restroom. The only organized archaeological dig of this burial ground did not take place until 1954. When they finished they built an enclosed shelter over the fossils to protect them. A concrete barrier wall outside the shelter has an artists drawing of what one of these creatures would have looked like true to size. Take the guided tour and get the interpretation of what you are seeing including evidence of earthquake faults in the area. Then head out alongside the concrete barrier to the Richmond Canyon Loop. The trail starts with a moderate climb. The trail serpentines to ease the climb and gets most of the climb out of the way early in the hike. There is plenty of shade as the hike continues thru pinion pine. There are nice views of the valley far to the west and Union Canyon below with many old prospector homes. The trail meanders around and thru tailings from the Richmond Mine. There is evidence of digging all around. I can only imagine some is from prospectors and some is from archaeologists. The high views disappear as you move deeper into the woods and eventually start the descent into Union Canyon. The trail has circled around and soon you find yourself near an old structure that has three pine trees growing thru the roof. This was the camp and building used by the University of California Archaeologists that studied this area in 1954. Continuing on the trail takes you back to the fossil shelter.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.