Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park

Facilities & Amenities
  • Camping
  • RV Dump Station
  • Group Camping
  • Picnicking
  • Visitor Center
  • Trails
  • Historic Sites
  • Nature Study
  • Max. RV size: 25'
  • Pets allowed
  • Tours

At 7,000' on the western slopes of the Shoshone Mountains in central Nevada, Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park was established in 1957 to protect North America's most abundant concentration of Ichthyosaur fossils. Some of the fossils on display here are among the largest ever found. The park also preserves the late 1800's, early 1900's mining town of Berlin, now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Silver was first discovered near here in Union Canyon in May, 1863. The first silver find in Berlin Canyon was recorded in 1869 but the Berlin Mine wasn't established until substantial veins of gold were found in 1896. The Nevada Company bought the Berlin Mine and all the surrounding claims in 1898. The town of Berlin flourished until 1908 when the ore body started to peter out. Berlin then declined until it was essentially abandoned in 1911. Today, many of the original buildings are still standing in this real life ghost town.

The Walter Bowler Tunnel, more popularly known as the Diana Mine, connects the surface with the fourth level of the Berlin Mine via a 1200' lateral tunnel. Carved out of the solid rock, the mine today looks like the miners just left and will be back again tomorrow. There are a number of period items on display along the length of the tunnel.

Ichthyosaur fossils have been found on every continent except Antarctica. They lived about the same time as the dinosaurs. They were very specialized marine reptiles that ranged in size from 2 feet to more than 70 feet in length. They were air breathing, bore their young alive and were very fish-like in locomotion and appearance, with very large eyes as compared to the rest of their bodies. The fossils found here were from Shonisarius popularis (named after the Shoshone Mountains were they were found) and they tended to be fifty feet or so in length. The first ichthyosaur fossils were found in 1928 by Dr. Siemon Muller. Serious excavations began in 1954 and continued into the 1960's. Eventually, about 40 ichthyosaur fossils were discovered in what is now the State Park. Several of these fossils were left in situ (where they were found) and are now available for public viewing inside the Fossil Shelter, a large barn that protects them from the elements.

An extensive sign system makes possible an excellent self-guided tour through the Berlin-Union areas of the park. There is also a nature trail that connects the campground with the Fossil Shelter. There are 14 well-spaced campsites available at the campground, some campsites large enough to accommodate RV's up to 25' long. The campground is open year-round but the water is turned off from October to mid-April (and snow is possible at this elevation during those months). Each campsite has a covered table, BBQ grill and fire ring. Restrooms and running water (in season) are nearby. There is also an RV dump station in the campground.

Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park contains 1,540 acres between 6,840 and 7,880 feet in elevation. The hillsides are covered with Big Sagebrush while the upper elevations are covered with Utah Juniper and pinon pine. The town of Ione is not far away but the nearest services are in Gabbs, about 23 miles to the west.

Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park
Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park
Old shacks and tin lizzies in the Berlin ghost town
In the ghost town of Berlin
Ichthyosaur carved into and painted on the wall of the Fossil House
Ichthyosaur on the wall of the Fossil House
Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park map
Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park area map
Photo of Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park is courtesy of Wikipedia userid Snowfalcon
Photo of Berlin ghost town courtesy of Wikipedia userid Liftarn
Photo of the Ichthyosaur courtesy of Nevada State Parks
Area map courtesy of National Geographic Topo!  

Geologic Time Scale

The K-T Boundary is that white line just beneath the upper layer of sandstone
The K-T Boundary is that white band beneath the upper layer of sandstone
Subdivisions based on Strata/Age Radiometric Dates (millions of years ago)
Neogene 0-2
Paleogene 2-65
Laramide Orogeny 63-65
Cretaceous-Tertiary Extinction Event 65
Cretaceous 65-145
Jurassic 145-210
Triassic 210-255
Permian-Triassic extinction event 251-260
Permian 255-280
Alleghenian Orogeny 260-325
Carboniferous: 280-360
Pennsylvanian 280-320
Mississippian 320-360
Devonian 360-415
Silurian 415-465
Ordovician 465-520
Cambrian 520-540
Precambrian Eons 541-4600
Proterozoic 541-2,500
Archean 2,500-4,000
Hadean 4,000-4,600

The table to the right gives a rough breakdown of the geological ages of Earth as used in modern Geology texts.

Much of the oil and gas we use comes from vegetative deposits made during the Permian and Pennsylvanian (late Carboniferous) ages. A lot of the coal we use (with its accompanying methane gas) comes from the great jungles and forests of the Mississippian and Pennsylvanian (early and late Carboniferous) ages in the Paleozoic era. Big reptiles and dinosaurs lived out their lives during the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods of the Mesozoic Era.

It was at the end of the Cretaceous Age that the Laramide Orogeny was set in motion, the Colorado Plateau uplifted and the Ancestral Rocky Mountains built. That was also during the time when an asteroid impacted near the Yucatan Peninsula and tipped the environmental scale in a direction that wiped virtually all the dinosaurs from the face of the planet. The K-T Boundary is a thin layer of iridium that filled the atmosphere during that explosion, then fell back to Earth during the global fires and the atmospheric upheaval afterward. While there have been plenty of marine, insect, reptile, amphibian, plant and mammal fossils found from times since, there has never been a dinosaur fossil found from the years after that impact. The K-T boundary is accepted as the definitive marker between the Cretaceous and Tertiary Ages, the marker of the Jurassic extinction event.

The Permian-Triassic extinction event seems to have happened in two major pulses about 9 million years apart. During the Permian age many insect orders had grown huge. A rise in CO2 in the atmosphere led to a rise in temperature and to acidification of the oceans. Marine invertebrates with carbon-based skeletons suffered worst but this was also the only mass extinction that affected insects: eight or nine insect orders became extinct and ten more suffered greatly reduced diversity. Insects, however, had generally recovered by the late Triassic, everything but that giant size anyway. The second pulse seems to have occurred around the time of the Araguainha impact, an asteroidal impact in Brazil that was not large enough to set off catastrophic extinction by itself but it occurred in an area filled with oil shale and the resulting sudden rise in global warming from the fires that ignited may have begun the atmospheric cascade that led to ocean surface temperatures around 104°F (40°C). That high an ocean temperature meant it was too hot for many marine species to survive. When it was over, more than 70% of terrestrial species and almost 90% of marine species had died out. Some land ecosystems took 30 million years to recover.

Photo of the K-T Boundary courtesy of TheArmchairExplorer, CCA-by-SA 4.0 License