In February 2004 my brother-in-law's family invited us to join them on a trilobite hunt in southern California's Mojave Desert, near historic Route 66.   We were regaled with tales of  a  huge trilobite found by one of his brothers on an outing up there.  We arrived in 29 Palms on Friday evening and early Saturday morning headed for Cadiz, a small ghost town that now consists mostly of a railroad crossing.  There are directions to this area on this website, which includes pictures of the mountain where it's located but to some extent, all of the mountains out there can look pretty much the same.  After a certain amount of semi-aimless driving on unmarked dirt roads we finally arrived at the trailhead. 

Beauty and the Beast

The Latham Shale, layers of early Cambrian deposits

We carried our gear and snacks up the trail until we started seeing fossils in the shale shards and noticed a number of waist-deep holes where others had already been searching.  A lot of partials could be found scattered around these pits but we didn't find any complete trilobites.  Several of us climbed over the top of the ridge which involved scrambling up very slippery piles of shale interrupted by large masses of razor-sharp stomatolite-laden boulders.  Most of the shale up there was very weathered and crumbled when touched.  After several hours of this the children in our group had been exposed to more than enough sun (it is California) and one of the dogs* was leaving bloody footprints, so we decided to call it a day.  Coming down that talus covered slope was an experience very much akin to skiing on a black diamond pile of broken glass and I heartily recommend a sturdy walking stick to aid the descent.  We talked to several other prospectors on the way out and none of them were having better luck.  At this point, the tale of the legendary whopper that had lured us there was clarified a little.  Someone had heard that a friend of a friend know someone who said they saw someone else find it, but details were hazy...  It may be worth a return trip with a bigger load of patience and some larger tools to get below the crumbling upper layers and excavate some deeper craters where larger bugs may still lie in undisturbed slumber.   I also noted that maps of this area show an extensive area on the other side of Route 66 called the Trilobite Wilderness which certainly sounds intriguing.


*Not our dog, Macho.  He has nails that can carve diamonds and footpads that leave craters in sidewalks. 

Marble Mountain partials


Even if trilobites were hard find, there were abundant stomatolites and in many places the shale had  a beautiful and sparkling silver sheen.


If you didn't notice the link above, more information on collecting trilobites in this area can be found here: Trilobite Fossil Site.

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