Official Penn Dixie Field Guide

Thanks to the New York State Geological Association, we’re pleased to offer a digital version of our definitive guide — Penn Dixie Fossil Park & Nature Reserve: A Window Into The Devonian Period of Western New York. The guide appears in the 89th Annual NYSGA Meeting Guidebook — print copies available here. You may download the Official Penn Dixie Field Guide for educational use only.

The guide was written by Executive Director Dr. Phil Stokes — a geologist — and Director of Education Dr. Holly Schreiber — a paleontologist — and provides a broad introduction to the history and science of Penn Dixie. Topics in the 18-page paper include:

  • Geological setting of New York State in the Devonian Period
  • Plate tectonics affecting the Catskill Basin and WNY
  • Why many different types of fossils are found at Penn Dixie
  • An overview of the main types of fossils found, including brachiopods, bryozoans, trilobites, crinoids, bivalves, gastropods, cephalopods, plants, and fish
  • Images of our fossils with updated nomenclature
  • A discussion of the fossil-bearing layers at Penn Dixie
  • Our organization’s history, and how we ended up as Penn Dixie!

Earth Science Day 2016

While Penn Dixie may be covered in ice and snow, we can always think ahead to the coming spring and summer months when the site will be visited by fossil collectors of all ages and experience levels. This spring, we’ve got Earth Day on April 22 and Dig with the Experts scheduled for Memorial Day weekend, plus many school field trips. In the summer we’ll host a full array of science and nature programs, but fall will be a really special time when we host our 20th Annual WNY Earth Science Day on Saturday October 7. To get in the sprit, take a look back at Earth Science Day 2016 — Saturday October 8 — with some photos courtesy of superstar volunteer Jake Burkett and his family.

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Despite the chilly and wet morning, exhibitors and visitors who chatted under the big tent stayed mostly warm and dry.
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The drill rig demonstration got a bit muddier than usual.
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UB Geology might have brought the messiest activity: goupy glaciers that flowed through 3D models.
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By late morning the skies cleared and our fossil collecting was in full swing.
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These folks came down from Ontario and were very eager to find the perfect trilobite.
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At just the right time, LLoyd Taco Truck arrived and satisfied the hungry lunch crowd — even T-rex.

For the full gallery visit the Google Drive gallery — thanks Burketts! We are grateful for the following organizations that made Earth Science Day possible:

  • 3rd Rock LLC
  • Aquarium of Niagara
  • Animal Advocates of WNY
  • Buffalo Association of Professional Geologists
  • Buffalo Geological Society
  • Buffalo Museum of Science
  • Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper
  • Canisius College Seismographic Station
  • Cradle Beach
  • Earth Dimensions, Inc.
  • Ecology & Environment, Inc.
  • Erie County Department of Environment and Planning
  • Evangola State Park
  • Lloyd Taco Trucks
  • Past & Present Rock Shop
  • Penn Dixie Site
  • Reinstein Woods/NYS DEC
  • SJB/Empire Geo Services, Inc.
  • StratResources Geologic Consulting, LLC
  • SUNY Brockport Earth Science and Meteorology Club
  • SUNY Buffalo Undergraduate & Graduate Geology Clubs
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — Buffalo

Frequently Asked Questions

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Penn Dixie offers 54-acres of fossil collecting, nature trails, and wetlands.

Since Penn Dixie welcomes many new visitors each summer, we put together this guide for new visitors. Please contact us if something is missing or needs clarification.

How can I purchase tickets?

Tickets are available on site. There is no charge for children under age 3. Senior, military, and student discounts with valid ID. Veterans may visit for free if they present a valid Erie County ‘Thank A Vet’ Discount Program card. Members should carry their cards with them during their visit. We also offer Private Expeditions and a premium fossil collecting experience through IfOnly. There is no charge for parking.

Adults Seniors 62+ Military Students Children 3-17 Members
$10 $9 $9 $9 $7 FREE

Which days are the busiest?

Generally, weekends are busier than weekdays. Since Penn Dixie has 54 acres — and a very large fossil quarry — it almost never feels crowded, even when we host big groups. Daily site traffic peaks around lunch time, though we occasionally have people waiting to enter before we open and folks who wish to stay until we close at 5 pm.

How long do people spend at the site?

It depends on how much time you’d like to spend looking for fossils! Some folks spend 1-2 hours, while others hunt all day. Serious collectors may visit the site for several days at a time in order to get the best/most specimens.

When is the best time of day to visit?

That’s up to you. Mornings tend to be cooler, while afternoons and evenings are much warmer. Since there is little shade in the quarry, we recommend bringing sunscreen, a shade hat, and water. Our nature trails have excellent canopy coverage if you need a break from the heat. And, we have several shelters that are perfect for a quick rest.

Are restrooms available?

Yes — we have two portable toilets available.

Is the site accessible?

Most of Penn Dixie — including our fossil collecting areas — is accessible to those in wheelchairs and with mobility impairments.

What about the weather?

With the exception of lightning, the site will be open regardless of weather. Be prepared and dress for the conditions.

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A mold and cast of a Phacops trilobite from Penn Dixie.

What are the chances of finding fossils?

If you look — 100%!! Different parts of the site have different fossils and nearly all of Penn Dixie has some sort of geological treasure waiting to be discovered. We estimate that there are tens of thousands of fossils present just at the surface. Our trained staff will help you to locate and identify your fossils, or you are welcome to uncover them on your own.

What can I expect to find?

Since Penn Dixie has millions of Devonian marine fossils, everyone is guaranteed to find something. Probably lots of things. You can get an idea about what has been found in the past by viewing our fossil gallery.

What if there is nothing to find?

Not possible! We excavate a new part of the quarry every spring and there are always fossils to be found.

Are all of the fossils real?

Definitely. They’ve been hiding out under layers of rock ever since the organisms lived and died almost 400 million years ago.

How common are trilobites?

The trilobite Phacops rana is fairly common if you know where to look. But, it’s a real challenge to find a complete trilobite — or, several complete trilobites — in a single rock.

Can I keep what I find?

YES! If you find something really cool or unique, we ask that you submit a photo that we can include on our website.

What do I need to bring to collect fossils?

It’s up to you, but everyone should bring at least a bag or small bucket for their fossils. Surface collecting — without tools — sometimes yields really cool stuff, especially after a strong rain. Digging — with the right tools — helps to unearth fresh specimens that have not seen the light of day in almost 400 million years. If you bring tools, we recommend:

  • Rock hammer with steel handle
  • Small sledge hammer and chisel
  • Pry bars
  • Safety goggles
  • Newspaper/bubble wrap
  • Bags for storing wrapped fossils

What if I don’t have that stuff?

Penn Dixie has tool sets for rental at $5/day. The sets include a small sledge hammer or two, chisel, safety goggles, and bucket. We will also sell fossil collecting bags for $2. Though our supplies are limited, we have not yet run out of rental tools on busy days.