Hunting for Fossils Near Hemet, California

by Sally Taylor
Numerous types of invertebrate fossils can be found in the Hemet area.

Numerous types of invertebrate fossils can be found in the Hemet area.

Hemera Technologies/ Images

The Hemet area of California is well known for its vertebrate fossils. The geology of Southern California has changed much over the course of the continent's history, and animal fossils tell us much about the region's biological records. Though laws prohibit vertebrate fossil collecting, the area is rich with invertebrate fossils for sharp-eyed collectors.

Southern Califonria Geological History

The landforms of Southern California are being continually changed by converging tectonic plates, volcanic activity and spreading faults that push and pull the land into mountains, canyons and valleys. The land has existed as sea bottom and as lush forests with inland freshwater lakes and rivers. Each era of history saw the emergence of new life-forms that eventually succumbed to the continual changes of the land and climate. The water left sediment that hardened and preserved plants and animals that died there, leaving us rich fossil records of California's past. In the Hemet area these fossils are distributed throughout the canyons, mountains and valley basins waiting to be discovered by those who understand the clues to finding them.

Equipment for Fossil Hunting

Hemet is a hot, arid region in the summer, so take as much water as you can. Pack a beach umbrella or tarp to provide shade -- a luxury you won't find much of near Hemet. You must keep land damage to a minimum, so a small hand shovel, geologist pick, chisel, a magnifying glass and a pack to carry them in should be all the equipment you will need. Newspaper also comes in handy for wrapping your finds so they don't break in your pack. A good topography map will help you identify places you want to explore.

How to Search

Because you are not allowed to do a lot of digging, you need to find fossils on or close to the surface. Canyon walls and escarpments of rock layers and steep mountain slopes with rock outcroppings are the best places to explore. Look for fossils on the ground. Sometimes they weather out of the rock walls. If you find fossils on the ground the source will be uphill. Check layers of sedimentary rock in canyon and escarpment walls. Shale, sandstone, siltstone and lime are all fossil-bearing rocks of the Hemet region. Use your chisel carefully to split rocks -- fossils are fragile. You are allowed to keep only invertebrate fossils, and only for personal use.

Hemet Area Fossil Locations

Collecting must take place on public land. The mountains around Diamond Lake Valley have been known to produce a wide variety of fossil species. East of town, Bautista Creek and Thousand Palms Canyon both yield shell fossils of several species. Southwest of town in the Elsinore area plant and leaf fossils are abundant. If you should accidentally find a vertebrate fossil, do not remove it. The bones are always of interest to paleontologists, and placement gives clues about early ecosystems. Contact a forest service office if you get lucky and find one.

About the Author

An honor graduate of the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English and linguistics, Sally Taylor has contracted research and writing services since 1986. She has worked with organizations such as US West AT, and SW Bell Silver Pages.

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/ Images