Peace River — digging up the past
Peace River Fossil Hunting
You never know what you will find in the Peace River but one thing for sure, no human eyes have ever seen it before. The river is full of remnants of land and sea animals that have fossilized and now are washing out, bit by bit. As far as Old Florida goes, it doesn’t get much older than this.
In millennia past, when Florida was underwater, megalodons — giant sharks as big as Greyhound Buses — hunted here. So did lots of smaller sharks and their teeth are among the most common finds.
Later, during glacial times when sea levels dropped because the earth’s water was locked up in ice, the area was dry land and filled with mammoths, giant land sloths, bison, camels, rhinoceros, early horses, huge armadillos, fearsome saber tooth cats and dire wolves.
Today, especially on weekends, the river is full of fossil hunters ranging from the six year-old beginner to the long-time collector, each dreaming that the next shovelful of gravel will deliver a breath-taking piece of the distant past.
Some wade and just look, others snorkel and drift over likely spots but most use mesh scoops or set up with a screen (like a tray with wire mesh on the bottom) and a shovel. Whichever you try you are likely to discover the past is truly right under your feet.
There are several easy access sites along Route 17 in Zolfo Springs, Arcadia, Gardner and Brownville.
The 1000 Trails Campground in Zolfo Springs will let you into the river through its campground for a $10 daily fee. Do keep an eye out for Stumpy, the resident three-legged alligator.
There is a boat ramp down a long dirt road in Gardner where the hunting is often good.
In Brownville, a county park offers free access and a nice campground for tents and RVs.
Arcadia, a town with a wild west past, has a restored downtown area that’s worth take time to visit and Slim’s BBQ on northbound 17. River access is via the town park or through the Peace River Campground that has secluded tent sites right on the river.
Many prefer to canoe or kayak to more remote hunting areas like Horse Creek. Bring your own boat or rent from one of the nearby outfitters.
Hunting is good from the sites above when the water level is below seven feet. Check it out at the federal water gauge site.
Several fossil clubs hunt these areas regularly and for a few dollars you can join and get expert advice on how and what you find. Or join up with Mark Renz Tours or one of the other professional tour leaders for a great day.
With a good map and a strong imagination you can step back 10,000 to 10 million years into the past. And wherever you settle down to hunt, people will pass you on the river all day and call out, “Did you find the big one?” And you just might.
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© Copyright 2012: text Sue Harrison; photos Sue Harrison & Lee Brock for MyOldFlorida.com.