A family herd of Columbian mammoths in a wetland.
A family herd of Columbian mammoths at Tule Springs Fossil Beds 32,000-28,000 years ago. Wetlands expanded and disappeared on the Tule Springs landscape for hundreds of thousands of years.

NPS Image | Julius Csotonyi

Paleontology at Tule Springs Fossil Beds

Paleontology is the study of ancient life through time by looking at fossils. Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument was established in 2014 primarily to protect the largest open-air Pleistocene fossil site in the Desert Southwest.

Sciences, like paleontology, are a way of knowing about the Earth. Paleontologists learn how to read the clues left behind in the rock and fossil records to understand life and environments that are no longer around. Scientists compare our living environment to what is preserved from long ago.

During the Pleistocene, or the last Ice Age, the Earth’s climate changed dramatically, affecting weather patterns and habitats across the globe. Many scientists work together to piece findings together into a bigger picture of Ice Age Tule Springs. Although the rock record of Tule Springs dates to over 570,000 years ago, fossils are found in sediments that are 100,000--12,500 years old. Many species of animals went extinct at the end of the Pleistocene; however, many others survived and adapted to a changing climate. Several plants and animals found in the Mojave Desert today are represented in the fossil and ancient pollen records of Tule Springs from thousands of years ago.

A fossil mammal vertebra on the soil surface under a bush.
A fossil partial vertebra on the soil surface at Tule Springs Fossil Beds.

NPS Photo | Lauren Parry

What if I find a fossil?

While most fossils lie beneath the surface, sometimes erosion exposes new finds. It is exciting to find a fossil, but important to protect it. If you find a fossil at Tule Springs Fossil Beds, leave the fossil where it is, take a photo, and share your discovery with park staff. Removing fossils from the sites where they were found causes most of the interesting and valuable information about that fossil to be lost forever. It is against federal regulations to disturb or collect fossils from any National Park Service site, including Tule Springs Fossil Beds.

Protecting Fossils

The paleontological site monitoring program at Tule Springs Fossil Beds allows us to monitor previously documented fossil sites for changes in fossil condition, natural erosion, and human-caused disturbances. Wind, water, and the hot desert sun can erode away at fragile fossils and crumble the soft sediment.

Although fossil excavations are currently rare, this program also helps preserve historic dig sites that are still intact. Fossil monitoring helps to accurately document and preserve fossil resources and the stories they tell for generations to come.


Last updated: June 27, 2023

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Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument
601 Nevada Way

Boulder City, NV 89005


7022938853 (Information Line)

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