By Matt Heaton "FossilEra"
U-Dig (www.U-DigFossils.com) is a private, fee-dig trilobite quarry near Delta, Utah. It contains one of the most prolific trilobite assemblages in the world. I dug my first trilobite there more than 15 years ago, and countless others have been introduced to the world of fossil collecting at U-Dig. It’s a great place for pretty much anybody to find their own fossils including families, kids and people who’ve never collected a fossil. For a hourly fee, they supply tools, helpful guidance, unlimited rock to split and you get to keep everything you find.
For the previous week I had been in search of rare trilobites in the deserts of Utah and Nevada. The process involved days of moving heavy overburden and cracking hard limestone with a sledgehammer. I had been going on three or four days straight of not finding a decent complete trilobite, so not only was my body feeling a bit worn out, but I was getting pretty frustrated. I decided that take a day off and “rest” by visiting U-Dig to split some nice soft shale. Plus, I was basically guaranteed to find some complete trilobites even if they were just common species.
U-Dig is located in a particularly fossiliferous section of the Middle Cambrian (505 million years old) Wheeler Shale. There are 4 species of trilobites commonly found at the quarry; Elrathia kingii, Asaphiscus wheeleri, Bolspidella housensis and Peronopsis interstrictus. If you spend a few hours splitting rock at the quarry and have a sharp eye you’re more than likely going to see all four of those. There are two rare types of trilobites found in the quarry Altiocullus (2 species) and Olenoides (2 species). Only a handful of complete Altiocullus at the quarry in a season and a complete Olenoides only shows up once every few years. Besides the trilobites there are a number of other fossils including brachiopods, algae and phyllocarids. There is also a rare, burgess shale like, soft bodied fauna in certain layers of the quarry but it really takes a trained eye to identify it, as to most people it just looks like a black stain on a black rock.
I arrived at the quarry on what happened to be their opening day for the season so there were only about ten people at the quarry. On a summer weekend day the place will often be packed with dozens of people. It also meant there were plenty of big blocks of shale in the quarry that had been recently pulled out with the backhoe. I decided to spend my time break down some of the larger blocks and see how many trilobites I could find. I preferred to go for the large blocks of shale, often covered in hammer marks from other people who’d tried to split them and given up. Breaking the larger blocks was the most efficient way for me to see a lot of surface area with the least effort, and have the best chance at getting largest trilobites centered on a nice piece of rock or finding multiple plates. A solid wack with the edge of a 4 lb. crack hammer would typical split these blocks pretty easily.
Nearly every split at least yielded parts of trilobites and it wasn’t long before I was finding complete Elrathia, the most common trilobite in the quarry. Most of the trilobites that you find are molts. Like lobsters, trilobites molted as they grew, discarding their old shell. A trilobite molt can be identified because it’s missing sections on the side of each head typically referred to as “free cheeks”. Most of the trilobites at U-Dig are relatively small, under an inch. Occasionally a nice big 2 inch long Asaphiscus will be found, but that is a real prize.
One of my favorite things about digging at U-Dig is “seeding” the quarry for any kids that might be digging nearby. It’s fun to place a nice big trilobite face up on a rock and mention, “you should try digging over there”. Then watch as they run back to their parents with a big smile on their face to show off their find.
I split shale for five or six hours straight without taking a break, challenging myself to see how many trilobites I could find in the day. By the end of the day I had quite a pile to sort through. I kept the best specimens leaving the remainder scattered in piles around quarry for kids to find. My keepers were about two dozen Elrathia, three good Asaphiscus including one close to 2 inches, and several multiple plates of smaller trilobites. Nothing I would consider rare, but still a nice little haul.
Most of thee trilobites I found at U-Dig still needed to be prepared as there was still rock on top of them obscuring much of the detailed shell. Typically at the quarry for their commercial collecting operations they prepared them using a wire brush on a grinding wheel. While economical and efficient this tends to remove some of the surface detail from the trilobites. I have an air abrasive unit, so I was able to prepare the ones I found under microscope. While taking more time it yields better detail.
By Gary Ervin Florida
My wife, Linda, son, David, and I were at your quarry about three weeks ago. It was hot, dusty, and at times a pain in the you-know-what. We found a bunch of trilobites.
I am now back in the office in Sarasota Florida and am day-dreaming about being out there again in the middle of nowhere.
I MISS THE BROAD EXPANSE OF NOTHINGNESS!!!!
We had a great time. I loved Utah in general and want top come back out and could spend two weeks in your state alone.
Your staff was so accomodating.
Thanks for such a wonderful memory
By Michael Burns "Phoenix AZ"
My daughter Stephanie loves studying / researching prehistoric life and she wanted to study fossils. I looked up fossil digging in Utah because I watched a special about U-Dig Fossils on the Travel Channel "America's Best Places to Find Cash & Teasures" around a year ago. My daughter was very excited about digging fossils so we went to Utah for a few days.
I wasn't sure what to expect however it became real interesting right off the bat. The family that works the site was very helpful and got us started on our adventure, very soon we were finding trilobite fossils. There was 4 kids digging close to us and they were just yelling none stop "I found another one, I found another one" which made everyone excited.
My best find was a plate of around 10 whole trilobites on it, what a great piece my daughter and I literally pulled out of the ground ourselves. It was a great experience that we had, even more so working with the family who owns U-Dig Fossils "they made the experience even better, and were very helpful". When we got home my daughter called all her friends and told them about the experience and she even gave them some of the fossils since we had so many.
This in my opinion is a must do experience, and a great adventure! Thanks
By Christine Grygar
My husband, 7 year old son and I just recently returned to Minnesota after visiting the U-DIG trilobite quarry in Delta, UT. We began our vacation in Yellowstone Park, WY, and decided to take a chance and drive down to Delta. Boy, did we make the right choice! Digging for Trilobites turned out to be the highlight of our 2 week trip!
We chose to do the half day dig, and between the hot sun and sore hands/arms from hammering, couldn’t have handled more than that without a day of rest. I highly recommend a sun hat with flaps! Also, from bending over, my lower back was sun burnt where my shirt pulled up, so be sure to sunscreen that area, because you will likely be bending over a lot. Udig does provide a shaded tent area to eat lunch in, or just to rest in, including tables and benches. We started out in the morning before the sun was too hot, and dug on the shady side of the hill while the shade lasted.
We found well over 100 Trilobites!! If you have the luxury of having plenty of space in your vehicle, then don’t worry about spending your hourly quarry time digging all of your fossils completely out of the rock. You can finish at home where you have more time.
The Udig staff are super friendly and helpful, and provide all the tools and information that you need. They also have Porta-potty’s on site.
Warning though, digging for Trilobites is ADDICTIVE!!! We can’t wait to go back!!!
By Walter Hull
Our experience at UDIG FOSSILS was OUTSTANDING. We showed up at the opening one day in the "cool" month of July. My older two daughters
found fossils aplenty on their own, but when my six year old daughter found her own, I knew we were in "tall cotton". Even though we only did the two hour dig, we must have found well over 200 fossils, almost 100 on one rock alone. Digging the fossils was definitely one of the high-lites of our two-week vacation. The staff was very helpful. The kids have been able to share their stories at school and with "jealous" friends. A must do in Utah. We are definitely planning on going back in 2012!!!!
By Matthew LaPlante
Dear U-Dig, Our family had a great time at your quarry last week. We learned a lot about trilobites — and a bit about life in general. If you're interested, here's a link to a letter I wrote to our three-year-old daughter about our experience.
By Pam Joslin & Alix Villers
Our first visit to U-DIG Fossils Quarry was in the summer 2009. I saw this adventure was possible on the Travel Channel and shared the idea with my 10 year-old granddaughter, Alix, and it was a “go.” We were going to be “treasure hunters” for a day.
We drove from Salt Lake City the day before the “dig” and stayed at the Best Western in Delta, Utah. The people there were quite hospitable. After breakfast at the hotel, we headed off for our journey to the quarry. The last 20 miles to the quarry were a “never before experience “ into desert country.
After arriving at the quarry, a staff member, Bevan, assisted us with some instructions on digging for fossils, set us up with buckets and picks and we were ready to go. We were only digging for a short period of time before we found our first Elrathia Kingi “pop-out”. So clearly defined and just waiting for us to discover it. The next couple of hours of digging revealed many “pop-outs” and trilobite fossil imprints. Bevan was very helpful in helping us choose which of our treasures were “keepers” and which ones we could “let go.” We left with some pretty impressive fossil plate imprints and around a dozen of the trilobite “pop-outs” and most importantly, memories to last a life time. I hope to be able to return someday with grandsons to share this “treasure hunting” experience.
By Bill Johnson
We read about U-Dig online in 2008 and didn't have time to visit while in Utah that year but summer 2009, we made a special trip to Delta and on to U-Dig fossils and what a great day!
In only a few hours of whacking rocks and talking to you folks we had way way WAY more than enough trilobites to take home, and give to friends and relatives, plus line our shelves with great souvenirs.
We very much enjoyed learning about the Utah landscape and its changes through history to date, and your grandson's guitar playing was a VERY big hit, and made a great day a fantastic day, thank you very much for all your time and help, it was hard to imagine that you can pick up just about any rock laying around your dig site , whack it a few times and poof! there are beautiful fossils right before your eyes!
Thanks for an amazing time, and thanks for allowing our pets to be leashed with us while we dug, that was the main reason we came but the reason we will keep coming back is the fossils are great, the digging done for us, and the knowledge and help from you all there was simply icing on the cake! You are certainly #1 when it comes to Utah fossils, no one can hold a candle to your experience.
We can't thank you enough for the great fossils, a few hours in the beautiful Utah backcountry and it was the highlight of our three weeks in Utah!
We will see you again next summer for certain, we are planning a day set aside just to come dig at U-Dig Fossils, can't wait!
By J.P. Strange
A few weeks ago we visited Delta, Utah on a trip with our two sons for spring break. We specifically planned the trip to visit the U-DIG facility and experience digging the trilobites. We traveled from Boise, Idaho and visited the Bonneville salt flats before continuing through Salt Lake City, Utah to Delta.
I wanted to thank you for all the information given to us about the location both before and during our trip. Not only were we able to easily located the digging site, but the employee on site was very helpful. I was a little weary about the trip because of the age of my two sons. I have a 9 year old and a 5 year old and was worried neither would find it interesting. Upon arrival, both my sons located trilobites on the ground walking up towards the quarry. Instantly the boys were intrigued and began looking for more. My oldest son was pre-occupied for the remaining two hours there digging the whole time. He located several trilobites and still carries around one with him daily. It was easy for him to break the rock and locate them. My youngest son had more fun rolling down the rock bank, but also found a few laying on the ground to enjoy. After two hours, we carried plenty of specimens including a "mortality plate" that later revealed more than 20 complete specimens with one being "rare". My wife, (who rarely participates in the digging activities because she "enjoys watching") decided to give it a try and became addicted. We now plan our weekends around traveling to local places looking for fossils. She spends hours on the internet researching.
Delta was small but hospitable. When we first planned the trip, we scheduled to travel back to Salt Lake City after our dig, but after arriving in Delta we were able to find a room at the Best Western. It was clean and serviceable. Delta is a wonderfully small, yet resourceful town. It has all the necessities needed for your trip. We were able to have our tire repair without much of a wait, the kids were able to have their McDonald's, and the small shops were enjoyable. One in particular was a must visit. The rock shop located on the main street in Delta offered a lot of information, maps, and discussion about local fossils and rock hunting. Plus the variety of items they had in the shop were enjoyable to look at.
Another "must see" if you are traveling through salt lake, is to visit the Museum of Ancient Life in Thanksgiving Point. It was excellent for the kids and very informative. They had a huge display of trilobites and a working paleontology lab. Thanks for the wonderful time, we will come again sometime.