This was originally published and sold via a Gumroad link on Chicago Rants, but I have enjoyed revisiting my longtime hobby so much that it has expanded into its own website, American Fossil Hunt, where the famous guide now resides.
I created this eBook as the one-stop and ultimate how-to resource finding Mazon Creek Fossils in the famous Pit 11 area (also referred to as the Mazonia-Braidwood State Fish and Wildlife Area). It’s very hard to find fossils at Mazon Creek, you really need to know where to look, and what to look for. I created this post and eBook to share one of my favorite pastimes and ensure that any potential collectors will have a good time and leave Mazonia with a bucket of rocks. The book also contains a map with the location to where I’ve found a Tully Monster in early 2016, and a separate location where I’ve found large, complete ferns.
What you get in Fossil Collecting Mazon Creek Pit 11: The Ultimate Field Guide
- A brief history on Mazon Creek concretions and the strip coal mines
- 8 maps of secluded Mazon Creek Pit 11 collecting sites *
- Tips on searching Pit 11, what to look for and where to look
- A map to the site where I found my Tully Monster Fossil
- Other fossil collecting areas in Grundy County
How and Where to Find Mazon Creek Fossils in Pit 11, the eBook
Every Chicago summer I always make time for one specific adventure outside of city limits: a fossil hunting trip to Mazon Creek. I load up the car with plenty of water, a bagged lunch, a couple small digging tools, and a bucket. This is one of my favorite oddities of the otherwise fairly boring state of Illinois. Mazon Creek fossils are rare. They are small, round-ish concretions that, when cracked open, contain 300-million-year-old ferns, jellyfish, works, or if you’re lucky, a small insect or invertebrate. There are only a handful of places around the world where these can be find, and the Illinois site is known as the best collecting site among both amateurs and professionals. With an hours drive, and wearing clothes you are prepared to get dirty, you can hike and climb around the underbrush of this old coal strip mine to find these rare Pennsylvanian-age fossil concretions. It’s one of Illinois’ lesser-known outdoor adventures, and a trip worth taking.
I wrote the Field Guide to be the one-stop and ultimate how-to resource finding Mazon Creek Fossils in the famous Pit 11 area (also referred to as the Mazonia-Braidwood State Fish and Wildlife Area). It’s very hard to find fossils at Mazon Creek, you really need to know where to look, and what to look for. If you are looking to take a trip to Mazon Creek Pit 11, first time or returning, you may be interested in buying the field guide, and I appreciate the support and opportunity to share one of my favorite pastimes and ensure that any potential collectors will have a good time and leave Mazonia with a bucket of concretions.
The Mazonia Braidwood State Fish and Wildlife area is about a 1 hour drive from Chicago down I-55. The nearest city center would be Braidwood, IL. There are several areas to park, and several trails to hike. I’ve ventured on most of them throughout my summer trips and have been documenting productive sites as I make my trips from Chicago to Mazon. Currently, the guide contains 8 maps that highlight these other, more discrete sites, where you may have more luck finding hidden gems. In 2016 I am focusing on the South Unit, sites that are harder to get to, and not collected as often.
The history of Mazon Creek fossils: 300 million years ago, Illinois was near the center of a large Carboniferous forest that stood at the edge of a large inland sea. The famous Mazon Creek concretions formed when layers of sediment rapidly trapped small fish, insects, ferns, and sea life. You can read more about the paleobiology and creation of these fossils from The Smithsonian and Wikipedia. The end result of this prehistoric phenomenon is that small organisms became encased and preserved in nodules or concretions that can now be collected from Pit 11. Below is an image of my unopened finds, as well as a notable collection housed at Dave’s Rock Shop in Evanston, IL.
I’m a big fan of Dave’s Rock Shop. It is literally a world-class collection in the basement of a commercial storefront! His Mazon Creek collection is spectacular. Now, these pictures are great finds from a professional who collected at the site during Pit 11’s prime (when the area was still being strip mined). The Pit more resembled the surface of the moon and collectors were able to go home with buckets of concretions. That is not the case anymore. Currently, Pit 11 is very overgrown and has returned somewhat to it’s “natural” state. But great finds are still possible, it’s just a lot harder to get to the right areas. If you plan on searching anywhere outside of the collecting site I’ve highlighted above, I recommend you download the full field guide. These other sites are hard to get to, but are very rewarding. My best find has been a rare Dryptoscolex Matthiesae, a type of aquatic worm (image below), and a Tully Monster I found in 2016 (also pictured below).
*If you download the eBook you will receive all updates and new maps created in 2016 as I continue to collect and document Pit 11 fossil sites. Buy it at the link at the top of the page, or the link below. Any questions or requests can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org!
In this link: Buy the Fossil Collecting Mazon Creek: The Ultimate Field Guide from American Fossil Hunt
Tully Monster found in 2016
A rare Pit 11 Fern found in April 2016, location added in the field guide.