Monday, August 13, 2012

Westmoreland State Park (Virginia): Fossil Beach and Shark's Teeth

That's me --- taking a breather on our hike to Fossil Beach at Westmoreland State Park here in Westmoreland County, Virginia.  Not too far from the state park, you can visit the birthplace of George Washington.  There's a lot of history in our county and some cheap, family fun too.  The day we visited the state park, it was a Saturday.  Weekend admission is $4 per car and weekday admission is $3, for those just wanting to visit.

Since we'd heard that you could hunt for shark's teeth at Westmoreland State Park's Fossil Beach, we decided to give it a go.  We have lived here for several years and though we've visited the park before once, we'd never gone on a fossil hunt.  In fact, we went two weekends in a row, taking my sister-in-law once to look for shark's teeth too.

In speaking with the knowledgeable office assistants manning the desk at the air conditioned visitor's center, we found that Fossil Beach was the ideal fossil hunting place.  We were advised that low tide was ideal and that was only a few hours away, so we might have good luck.  They do sell collanders there to help you sift through as you dig in the water for shark's teeth, though the second time we brought our own.  Though it is possible to find some on the beach there, your best bet is to wade in and start panning on your own. 

What should you be looking for?  The Visitor's Center had a hand out showing various shark teeth so you'd know what you were looking for.  In our expeditions, we found several different kinds of shark teeth and not all were the signature look that you associate with shark's teeth. 

Things you might want to know before you visit:

1.  The Meadow Trail is .6 miles to Fossil Beach.  It's rated easy.  What you might not realize is the steep incline on the way back.  This was a bit hard to navigate in extreme humidity, though in lesser high temps, was much easier.  Wear good hiking shoes, but bring water shoes or go barefoot in the water when you get there.  This is not a flip flop type of trail.  They were kind to put a bench on the top of the hill so you can rest though!  You can rent a canoe and boat over to Fossil Beach.

2.  There are no bathroom facilities on that Beach.  You want to stop at the Visitor Center before heading out for your hike.

3.  The water will stain your clothes.  Our son's white t-shirt is permanently brown.  Don't wear your nice clothes!

4.  Bring your own collander or sieve to pan for shark's teeth.  The Visitor's Center does sell them, but they're several dollars each.  Everyone will want their own.  I bought extras at a Family Dollar in Colonial Beach for almost half the price.

5.  Don't expect to hit paydirt right away.  We panned for probably an hour and a half and found perhaps 6 indentifiable teeth, and that was with 5 of us looking.

6.  If you see any fossils in the cliffs there, do NOT dig them out.  It is against park rules.  

7.  There's no trash receptacle at Fossil Beach, so if you bring snacks, be prepared to pack out your trash and take it with you.  If you're hungry, they do have snacks available near their inground pool area and down by where you rent canoes.

8.  Last year, our area experienced a hat trick of disasters within the space of about 2 weeks.  We were rocked by the quake in Mineral, VA, a hurricane, and a Tropical Storm that stalled over our lil town for hours.  The park sustained major damage and they've worked really hard to get cabins repaired and open and trails cleared, but there's still work to be done.  If you see a donation box in the Visitor's Center, spare change is appreciated! 

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