Fossil Localities: Lake Manix

Hey there every peoples!

Again, apologies for the rants but we are back on track! I know I started this blog to talk about Central Coast fossils, but I realized that if I did, I would be out of material by July. But lucky for my readers, this blog also talks about stuff in the context of that unrealistic museum vision of mine. So that means we get to look at the places I hope to one day go to prospect for fossils (and there are a lot of places I’d like to look).

A week and a half ago me and my dad attuned “March Manix Madness”, a field trip held by the San Bernardino County Museum association. We have done these field trips for the last couple years and they are fantastic. You go out to the field and you learn so much. Best of all, they are lead by the museum’s curators! This time we were lead by the curator of paleontology, Eric Scott:

Eric Scott, curator of Paleontology

He’s a fun guy to out into the desert with. Plus, he has lots of good stories. As far as science goes, he studies the evolution of Pliocene and Pleistocene mammals. He also studies their extinction, which includes a most interesting hypothesis (that bison may have had a hand in the Pleistocene extinction, but more on that later). On this trip, Eric took us into the Mojave Desert to visit Lake Manix. Lake Manix was an ancient lake that occupied an area of 83 square miles and was 200 feet deep at its deepest point. Lake Manix formed about 450,000 years ago from floodwaters of the Mojave River. At that time, Lake Manix was the latest in a series of lakes created by the Mojave River. Lake Manix was a good size lake, filling what is called the Manix Basin:

Map of Lake Manix

Lake Manix enjoyed a long life, lasting a good 300,000 years. But then around 20,000 years ago Manix began to spiller over. The lake eventually drained catastrophically out through Afton Canyon:

Afton Canyon, where Lake Manix drained

Lake Manix has yielded an abundance of fossils from the late Pleistocene. Most of the fossils come from the 100,000 year old layers at Basset Point. According to Eric, the American Museum found some stuff out here, but not much more work was done. Then in the 1960s a man named George T. Jefferson did a lot of work out here. He built up a collection of fossils at UC Riverside. Unfortunately the university eventually liquidated their fossil collection and most of the material was sent to UCMP (University of California Museum of Paleontology).

Today, the San Bernardino County Museum goes on collecting forays at Lake Manix and part of our trip included looking for fossils. Many types of mammals have been found in the Manix beds including: a large horse, a small horse, three ground sloths (a rare occurrence), mammoth, large camel, llama, dire wolf, scimitar cat, and even short faced bear. No mastodon however. Interestingly, Eric told me, no mastodons have been found in the Mojave Desert.

About 50% of the mammal fossils found at Basset Point are camel. However, the first fossil we found was what Eric thought may have been fragments of a horse metapodial:

Bone fragments, possibly from a horse's foot bone

We found a couple other fossils which Eric thought were parts of vertebrae, probably from camels. Funnily enough, Eric has a little wish list for what he’d like to find: Smilodon and the lower jaw (with incisors) of a horse that died at the age of 6 or 7. Sorry for letting you down Eric. But hey, that’s just another reason to come back!

Lake Manix was a great place to visit. We didn’t find any spectacular fossils (like the camel metapodial below) but we found fossils nonetheless. I certainly enjoyed seeing up close how fossils are actually collected. And until I can figure out where to go look for fossil, this experience was the closest I can get to that. But the trip to Lake Manix was a blast and offered some great scenery. Thanks Eric for another fantastic field trip.

Till next time!

Camel metapodial being excavated at Lake Manix


3 thoughts on “Fossil Localities: Lake Manix

  1. Sounds like you had an awesome time!!
    You’ll get there eventually. Good things take lots of work and time.

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