The Geologic History of Fossil Butte National Monument and Fossil Basin
NPS Occasional Paper No. 3
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The principal rocks involved at Fossil Butte are the Green River and Wasatch formations. The first published notice of these two rock units was by Hayden (1869). Although short, Hayden's descriptions were the basis for later refinement of the stratigraphy of the Green River and Fossil basins. Hayden also mentioned the quantities of fossil fish from the Green River Formation.

The work done by Hayden was conducted under the auspices of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories. The survey lasted from 1867 to 1878, during which time Hayden and his associates published annual reports of their findings.

In the 1870 report, Hayden (1871) mentioned the discovery of the Petrified Fish Cut. This cut is located on the main line of the Union Pacific Railroad about 2 miles west of Green River, Wyoming. A. W. Hilliard and L. E. Rickseeker, employees of the Union Pacific Railroad, discovered the cut and obtained many fossil fish which they turned over to Hayden.

Previous to Hayden, rocks now known as the Green River and Wasatch formations were occasionally mentioned in the various diaries, journals, and reports of early missionaries like those of S. A. Parker or those of explorers like Fremont (Knight 1955).

Hayden's report (1871:425—437) included a description of the fish fossils from Petrified Fish Cut by E. D. Cope, a vertebrate paleontologist. Several years earlier Leidy (1856), another paleontologist, described a fish from an unknown locality in the Green River Formation.

Hayden divided this survey area into several districts. The Green River district was put in charge of A. C. Peale. Peale's (1879:535) report contained the first geologic description of Fossil Butte itself, as well as a short discussion of the fish fossils obtained there. The description of the butte is quoted here:

. . . In the lower part of the bluff from which these specimens are taken, the bright coloured beds of the Wasatch are seen outcropping, although the entire section cannot be seen, as their softness causes them to weather so that the debris conceals the strata. The fossils are found at several horizons in the shales. Near the top of the bluff is a band of hard, bituminous, or oily shale, which burns rather freely with a strong bituminous odor. . . . It is brownish-black in color and on the weathered surfaces a bluish white. . . .

The next major publication dealing with Fossil Basin was that by Veatch (1907). He mapped the rocks in certain areas of the basin in an attempt to bring a semblance of order to Hayden's (1869) broad stratigraphic descriptions. His work resulted in the designation of most of the rock units in Fossil Basin from Jurassic to Recent.

Schultz (1914), an associate of Veatch, published a paper dealing with the structures to the north and east of Fossil Basin. This helped to delineate the features surrounding and forming the basin.

Subsequent work on the geology of southwest Wyoming mainly has been concentrated on the Green River Basin just east of Fossil Basin. Significant work on Fossil Basin has been done by Rubey et al. (1968a,b) who mapped the northern part of the basin, and by Oriel and Tracey (1970) who have published results of the latest study on the stratigraphy and age of the rock units in Fossil Basin. This latest work is the culmination of many years of study and incorporates and refines data presented in shorter, earlier papers.

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Last Updated: 01-Mar-2005