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Berlin - Ichthyosaur State Park, Nye County, Nevada

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The Berlin - Ichthyosaur State Park has an unusual mix of treats for the rock hound and history buff. Take a look here......

In a remote part of central Nevada is one of the most unusual state parks in all of the United States.  It is the Berlin - Ichthyosaur State Park which combines the old historic silver mining ghost town of Berlin, and a completely unique display of Ichthyosaur fossils. Park Rangers give talks and tours in an old underground silver mine, and in another part of the same Park, facial fossils and explain the life and habits of the gigantic Ichthyosaur, a dinosaur and reptile which swam in the sea like a fish.


The old ghost town of Berlin is situated on the Western slope of the Shoshone range in central Nevada.  The town was founded in 1897 after silver was discovered in nearby Union Canyon.  For 13 years the little towns thrived and over 300 persons live there.  It had a general store, an assay office, boarding houses, a union hall, a schoolhouse, three saloons and many residences. Unlike many small western ghost towns, Berlin was never destroyed by a fire, and so many of the old buildings still stand in a state of arrested decay where visitors can view them just as they were built over a century ago.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the park is a small area which contains more than a dozen fossilized Ichthyosaurs. These giant dinosaurs swam in the sea and were up to 70 feet long and weighed from 40 to 60 tons.  They were the largest animals in existence in their time.  Like the whales of today, Ichthyosaurs had no gills and had to swim to the surface to blow and breathe air.  These unusual reptiles were the great ocean predators of their day and preyed upon sea fish.  They lived in an ocean that covered what is now western Nevada.

It is believed that the group of Ichthyosaurs found in the park were trapped along the muddy shore by a receding tide the Ichthyosaurs died as whales to when they are beached.  Geologists estimate that about 3000 feet of mud and slide later piled over their bones which were in time converted to fossils.  This happened some 200 million years ago.  Geologic uplift and erosion have brought their fossilized bones to the surface where the fossils were first noticed by the early day miners. Instead of sitting at the bottom of an ocean, these fossil sea creatures are located on the top of a mountain at an elevation over 7000 feet above sea level.  In the 1940s, a geologist from UC Berkeley began a series of excavations for Ichthyosaur fossils in the Union Canyon area.  The most important of these finds contained about a dozen individuals together in a small area.  The site of these fossils has been covered over with a shelter building to protect them from the elements as they now sit on the surface because the material covering them has been removed. Park rangers offer a tour of this set of fossils, and explain them to visitors.


The Berlin - Ichthyosaur State Park is located about 156 driving miles southeast of Reno and is open all year.  The nearest town and source of supplies is located at Gabbs 23 miles to the west.  There is a store and gas station at Gabbs. The road from Gabbs is easy to follow and paved for all but the last few miles. The dirt section is well graded, and no problem to follow.

A picnic area and campground are found in the park at Union Canyon near the fossil shelter.  In the campground, there are 14 camp units some of which are suitable for trailers and motorhomes which do not exceed 22 feet in length.  Each campsite has a fireplace, a grill, and a table.  Restrooms and water are located nearby within easy walking distance. A well marked nature trail winds along the Hill between the fossil shelter and campground another leads to the cemetery located below the Berlin town site.  There are also a number of historical markers in both brilliant and Union Canyon describing the old buildings and early day residents.


The area is an interesting one for rock hounds, as there are numerous old mines in the area as well as fossils located outside the park boundaries. Of course, it is against Park rules to pick up fossils or other rocks within the park. The semi ghost town of Ione is a few miles north of the park, and there are some small placer gold deposits located there as well.  Although this area is located a little bit out of the way, the Berlin - Ichthyosaur State Park is well worth the trip and time spent to stay a for few days.

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