Wyoming's fossils have been important to science since the 1870s and continue to be useful today. Remains of Triceratops, Diplodocus, Tyrannosaurus and others have helped answer—and raise—many questions about the ancient history of the planet and have captured popular imagination with their size or fierce appearance. The scientific value of these fossils and the public interest in them has brought collectors who excavate fossils and ship them to museums all over the country for further study and display. Only a few major finds from Wyoming have remained in the state.
Geology & Natural History
Browse Articles about Geology & Natural History
|Eclipses, solar||Rebecca Hein|
|Elk Basin Oil Field||Rebecca Hein|
|Fossil Butte National Monument||Annette Hein|
|Fossil Cabin at Como Bluff||Stephanie Lowe|
|Grass Creek Oil Field||Rebecca Hein|
|Green River Basin natural history||Emilene Ostlind|
|Hague, Arnold||John Clayton|
|Ice Slough, Oregon Trail landmark||WyoHistory.org|
|Jensen, Henry, oral history||Dana Van Burgh|
Geology & Natural History
Prospectors first struck oil in the Salt Creek Oil Field in northern Natrona County, Wyo. late in the 1880s. The first gusher came in in 1908. The subsequent boom lasted until the late 1920s, peaking in 1923, when the field produced more than 35 million barrels of oil. Tom Wall, who went to work in the field in 1917, stayed for decades and in the 1970s wrote out his memories of life in the oil patch through boom and bust. After 125 years and thanks to new technologies, the Salt Creek Field continues to produce today.
The earliest people appear to have come to Wyoming from Asia about 11,000 years ago and archaeologists now think there’s a good chance the people were direct ancestors of Shoshone people who live in Wyoming now. In recent years, the mostly white archaeologists have realized it makes sense to ask Shoshone people for help understanding the pictures and carvings their ancestors left on the rocks.
Natural gas has been flowing from the Jonah Field and Pinedale Anticline in western Wyoming since the early 1990s, bringing with it substantial profits, tax revenues, prosperity, social change, air pollution, and declines in local mule-deer populations. The story goes to the heart of Wyoming’s oil and gas culture, and raises important questions about energy production’s long-term costs and benefits.
Wyoming’s bone-dry Bighorn Basin is isolated by its surrounding mountains and watered by crucial rivers and streams. Its history and natural history are rich with discoveries of dinosaurs, oil and gas, and with the traces of its occupants—American Indians, ranch and farm families, railroad families and oil workers.
Seminoe and Kortes dams, both located in a remote stretch of northern Carbon County, Wyo., were constructed in the 1930s and 1940s primarily for the production of hydropower. While power plants at both dams still generate electricity, the area is frequented by tourists, especially fishermen who travel to the renowned Miracle Mile, just downstream from Kortes Dam, to catch trout.
In 1843, explorer John C. Frémont reported coal in what’s now southwest Wyoming. In the 1860s, the route of the new transcontinental railroad across Wyoming was chosen partly to access abundant coal deposits for fuel for the locomotives. Coal mining boomed, labor strife increased and Wyoming’s coal industry thrived despite worker strikes and a number of horrific mine accidents. Today, the state produces 40 percent of the nation’s coal, most of it from huge strip mines in the Powder River Basin in northeast Wyoming, for rail shipment to electric power plants in 34 states.
Anchor Dam was built in the 1950s on upper Owl Creek in Wyoming’s Bighorn Basin. The bedrock under the reservoir site is porous, and the reservoir has never held much water. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation more than doubled its initial costs with subsequent mitigation efforts, which proved unsuccessful. The dam stands today high above a small pool of water.
Created in 1911 and named for President Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln County is perhaps best known for its extraordinary geological history, showcased at Fossil Butte National Monument. The county seat, Kemmerer, Wyo., is the site of the first store opened by James Cash Penney, founder of J. C. Penney & Co., a business that still operates nationally today. Agriculture, mining and oil and gas industries continue to spur the county’s economy.