Fossil Discovery Center of Madera County
From Antiques Roadshow to American Pickers and Pawn Stars, popular TV shows have long featured treasures found in unlikely places. Just a few miles south of the Merced County line, a new museum displays treasures found in a dump.
Situated along Highway 99 between Chowchilla and Madera, the small community of Fairmead is now home to the Fossil Discovery Center of Madera County. The excitement started in 1993 when sanitation workers at the Fairmead Landfill discovered part of a mammoth tusk.
Experts were called in and the discoveries have continued. Scientists have dated the Farimead fossils to the Middle Pleistocene age – roughly 500,000 to 780,000 years ago. Surprisingly, the fossils were only twelve feet below the surface!
Many of the most interesting results of the excavations have been on display since the museum opened last fall. On weekdays visitors can watch fossils being removed from the dirt and examined in the on-site lab.
Although especially good for children, visitors can learn a lot about the natural history of our region. The Central Valley was underwater during the age of the dinosaurs, so the Fairmead fossils provide a glimpse into a later period when Pleistocene horses, Columbian mammoths, sabre-toothed cats, short-faced bears, dire wolves, camels, and several species of sloths roamed the area that we now call home.
Thousands of specimens representing 39 species have been discovered. Fresno State paleontologists oversee the continuing excavations.
Start your visit with the short well-produced video introduction to the museum. It provides a good overview of the site’s significance. You can tour the exhibits on your own but we definitely felt that we learned far more by taking a guided tour. Many displays feature items that can be touched and examined up close.
The weight of some of the fossils may be a surprise to some. Many are not completely fossilized and weigh more than might be expected. On some days children can participate in mock fossil digs in an outdoor area adjoining the museum. Call ahead to find out when these mock digs are offered.
The Fossil Discover Center is a great outing during the inclement weather of the colder months.
To get there, take Highway 99 south to exit 164 (Avenue 21 ½.) Turn left (west) and you will see the Center at the intersection of Avenue 21 ½ and Road 19 ½.
The museum is open from 9AM to 4PM from Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, and $3 for students. Children under three are free. Tours for groups or schools can be arranged.