Falls of the Ohio guided tours show off the best of the fossil beds
By Remy Sisk
If you’ve lived in Southern Indiana or Louisville for any amount of time, then you’ve surely heard of the Falls of the Ohio. Located on the shore of the Ohio River in Clarksville, the falls is among the world’s largest exposed fossil bed of the Devonian Period. These expansive 390-million-year-old fossil beds are open 365 days a year for visitors to explore on their own, but there’s also a multitude of guided tours available, which, as Falls of the Ohio Assistant Manager Brad Kessans affirms, help give the astounding fossils and park in general a bit more context.
“We’re a vast fossil bed, so sometimes it’s hard, even if you know where a fossil is, to locate it without a GPS,” said Kessans. “But we are familiar with where the best fossils are and what those fossils are. So, on the guided hike, you get taken directly to some of the best spots versus having to explore for hours to stumble upon these places. We also utilize scrub brushes, water and water bottles to get the dirt, silt and sediment off of the rock so we can expose the natural limestone that carries the fossils. … Also, most fossils are not in their entirety and totally visible – sometimes you only can see the top or bottom of a fossil – and our experts are able to identify those whereas a lot of amateurs are not.”
Guided tours are usually on the weekends and scheduled fairly regularly, and the easiest way to stay completely in touch with what’s going on is by checking out the events section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park’s Facebook page or by browsing the events calendar on the Indiana Department of Natural Resources website. They’re also completely free outside of the $2 parking fee that all visitors pay whether going on a tour or not.
An upcoming event that Kessans encourages folks to check out is the Outer Bed Fossil Hike on Oct. 7. “If you have the opportunity and you’re physically able to make it to the outer beds, which are the rock structures that people see across the waterway, they’re only accessible maybe two months out of the year by foot, but if you can make it, they are the place to go,” Kessans said. “The fossils are larger, for the most part untouched and you actually have some Silurian – which is the time period before the Devonian – mixed in out there. So, you can experience both time periods in certain parts of the outer beds.”
On the tour, visitors can expect to not only explore these magnificent fossil beds and examine the staggering history present in them but also learn a bit more about the history of the falls as well as its unique and extraordinarily varied ecosystem.
Attendees to tours – or just solo explorations – can also expect to get a workout at the falls. “We’re right on the Greenway Project, which is a huge recreational and exercising source,” Kessans said. “So, we’re part of that and also have our Woodland Loop Trail. And then on our fossil beds, there is a little bit of leg workout involved because of the varied elevation. So, one could definitely get a workout here.”
Whether you’re looking to work up a sweat or just wanting to leisurely take in the scenery, Kessans said it’s important the community get out and explore the Falls. Its fossil beds are only matched in splendor by its history, and, on the guided tours specifically, you can discover both – just don’t come looking for dinosaur fossils.
“People say ‘fossils,’ and they always relate back to dinosaurs,” said Kessans, “so people come here and know we’re a fossil bed and ask, ‘Well, where are your dinosaur bones?’ But our fossils about 200 million years older than dinosaurs, so that’s pretty amazing. But if people are wondering, that new layer of rock – the Jurassic or dinosaurs – has been shoved out of here and eroded away due to glaciers, so that’s why you don’t find dinosaur bones in Indiana.”
FALLS OF THE OHIO STATE PARK
201 W. Riverside Drive