See all fossils great and small ... in Washington

People wanting to get a sense of ancient Washington can find samples at places large and small. Here is a look at some locations within an easy drive of the South Sound.

Olympic National Park Visitor Center

600 E. Park Ave., Port Angeles.

Open year round except Thanksgiving and Christmas.


Here you can see a cast of a rare fossilized sea star found on a park beach last summer. The sea star is believed to be 15 million years old.

The fossil was found near Kalaloch by a park visitor. Park staff needed to use rock saws to remove it. The fossil is now at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture and images are being studied by experts. They have not yet identified what species it is.

Sea stars fossils aren’t often found because the animal typically falls to pieces after it dies, said Liz Nesbitt, the museum’s curator of paleontology.

“They are made of tiny hard particles held together by the skin. So the fact that we found one is exciting in and of itself,” Nesbitt said.

The sea star was trapped when a large chunk of sand came down during an underwater landslide. “There might be more there, but we have never looked there because no one has ever found one,” Nesbitt said.

Bonus: See modern-day relatives of the fossilized sea star at the Feiro Marine Life Center on the Port Angeles City Pier at the northeast corner of North Lincoln Street and Railroad Avenue.

The Museum and Arts Center

175 West Cedar St., Sequim.

Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays.

360- 683-8110,

The center is home to some of the bones from the Manis mastadon. While digging a pond in the front yard of his Sequim home in 1977, Emanuel Manis dug up what he first thought was a piece of wood. It turned out to be a tusk and other bones from the skeletal remains of a mastadon.

Other items found at the site include charcoal beds from fires. Researchers also found a bone projectile point in one of the mastadon bones, the first evidence indicating ancient people hunted mastadons in the area. Subsequent research showed the mastadon to be about 12,000 years old.

Inside the center, visitors can watch a video – narrated by Manis himself – about the discovery and excavation of the bones. A number of bones are mounted on the wall, in front of a mural showing the size of the animal.

Bonus: In May, the center opened its new Jamestown S’Klallam longhouse exhibit. It features artwork and artifacts depicting the tribe’s history.

Western Washington University

Environmental Sciences Building, 516 High St., Bellingham.

Hours: When the university is in session, the building is open 7:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sundays-Fridays and 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays. Between sessions, the building is open 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m.


The university’s Geology Department has an extensive display of fossils, rocks and minerals. Developed in the 1980s by geology research technician George Mustoe, the collection now lines the hallways of the buildings’ first three floors.

While some of the items are in display cases, Mustoe said there are quite a few displays where the materials can be touched or handled by visitors.

Bonus: South of Bellingham, Chuckanut Drive is a good place to look for fossilized ferns and other plants. But be careful, warns the Burke’s Nesbitt. “The road is very narrow and people drive really fast,” she said. “You’re walking along the road looking up the cliff at the fossils and cars are coming by.”

Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture

17th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 45th Street, University of Washington, Seattle.

Hours: Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. except major holidays.


If you can visit only one location, the Burke might be the place. The museum’s collection includes 3 million fossils.

Among them is a 12,000-year-old giant ground sloth discovered during construction at Sea-Tac International Airport. The museum also has a fossilized skull of a long-nosed dolphin. Believed to be 20 million to 30 million years old, the skull was found along the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Clallam County. Also in the collection are fossilized full skeletons of salmon that show the skin and scales. Found along the Skokomish River, they could be as much as 1.5 million years old.

Bonus: The museum holds a number of fossil days. The next is Dino Day, which will be in March. The event includes the chance to find your own fossil, look at some of the museum’s collection, and hear from experts.

Gingko Petrified Forest State Park

4511 Huntzinger Road, Vantage.

Summer hours: 6:30 a.m. to dusk

Winter hours: 8 a.m. to dusk on weekends and holidays Nov. 2-March 19; interpretive center hours vary.


This park is home to an amazing collection of petrified trees, unearthed in the 1930s by crews doing road construction. Overlooking Wanapum Reservoir on the Columbia River, the park has an interpretive center packed with interesting items, scores of large pieces of petrified wood, and the Trees of Stone Interpretive Trail with more specimens.

The forest, which includes more than 30 species of trees, was created by the Gingko flow, when an estimated 63,000 square miles of an ancient basalt lava flow covered parts of Washington, Oregon and Idaho 12 million to 17 million years ago.

The center houses more than 50 varieties of cut and polished pieces of petrified wood. One display features “picture wood,” cut and polished wood naturally depicting scenes such as ducks on a pond, deep sea fish, and a view south of the center. The small theater features six videos.

The trail is two miles west of the center on Vantage Highway. While it was disappointing to see the grates over the petrified spruce, maple and Douglas fir, it was understandable.

Bonus: Walk around the center to see the petroglyphs that were moved from their original site before the reservoir covered them. Look for Western fence lizards scurrying among the rocks.

Stonerose Interpretive Center

15 N. Kean St., Republic