Lands managed by the Kanab Field Office (KFO) have exposures of geological strata ranging in age from historic time to approximately 250 million years old. Many of these strata contain the remains of long-dead organisms preserved as fossils. Most of the fossils are the shells, teeth, bones or traces (e.g. footprints) of terrestrial organisms that lived between 65 and 250 million years ago, a time known as the Mesozoic (literally: middle life). Informally called the “Age of Dinosaurs,” the Mesozoic is one of the most fascinating chapters in earth history that saw the rise of mammals, modern snakes and lizards, modern amphibians, dinosaurs, turtles, crocodiles, marine reptiles, birds, flowering plants, and many kinds of insects.
Rock layers in the KFO area faithfully record local life and surface conditions for much of this time, giving scientists who study fossils (paleontologists) exceptional opportunities to learn more about this crucial time of biological development. Rocks dating to the latter part of the Mesozoic, known as the Cretaceous (65 to 144 million years ago), that crop out in the nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument have already proven to contain one of the best terrestrial fossil records for this time in the world. Similar rock strata occur in the KFO area and have similar potential to help understand these ancient ecosystems that foreshadowed our modern world.
Although the scientific value and overall rarity of vertebrate fossils has led to their being protected, fossil invertebrates and plants can be legally collected for personal (ie. non-commercial) use without a permit. Only scientists from qualified institutions can legally collect vertebrate fossils from public lands, and even then only by permit. Aside from their scientific value, fossils are enjoyed by many simply as objects of wonder and beauty. Each shell, bone, or track is at the same time both a memorial, and a celebration of life’s long, slow journey to the present.