Guidebook—Geology and Paleontology of Northwestern Kansas

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color photo of sculpted chalk bluffs against a backdrop of dark blue, cloud-filled sky

Niobrara Chalk bluffs in the vicinity of Castle Rock, Gove County.


As the title suggests, this field trip will focus on the geology and paleontology—that is, the rocks and fossils—of northwestern Kansas. The five stops in Logan, Gove, and Scott counties will take us through two of the state's physiographic regions: the Smoky Hills and the High Plains. Except for Stop 3, the field trip focuses on rocks deposited late in the Cretaceous Period, about 80 million years ago, specifically, the Niobrara Chalk, as pictured above. The field trip is cosponsored by Nature Conservancy, Kansas Chapter.

color map of parts of Logan, Gove, Scott, and Lane counties, showing field trip route

Map of field trip route.

The Legalities of Fossil Collecting in Western Kansas

Commercial fossil collecting—collecting and restoring fossils for resale to private buyers and museums—became a contentious issue in the 1980's when a market for fossils, particularly large vertebrate fossils, began to develop. Landowners in the chalk beds became concerned that fossil hunters were trespassing on property to collect fossils and selling fossils without making landowners aware of their market value (McCauley et al., 1997).

In response, the 1990 legislature passed a law (Kansas Statutes Annotated 21-3759) requiring commercial fossil hunters to "obtain written authorization of the landowner to go upon such land for such purpose and when requesting such written authorization has identified oneself to the landowner as a commercial fossil hunter." Commercial fossil hunters must also provide landowners with "a description of the fossil" they intend to collect and receive owner authorization, in writing, to remove it.

This legislation applies only to commercial fossil collecting. It does not apply to casual collectors who are searching for fossils for their own use or for use in a classroom, or to groups such as school children, 4-H'ers, or boy and girl scouts. Of course, such casual collectors must obey existing laws related to trespass and must secure owner permission before entering private property to search for fossils.

This permission is particularly important because some landowners in the area have signed lease agreements with fossil collectors, in essence giving those collectors exclusive right to take fossils from their property. These agreements are somewhat akin to leases for mineral rights, and allow the landowner and the fossil hunter to share in the proceeds from the sale of any fossils. Because these leases may give the person holding the lease exclusive right to collect on a piece of property, landowners cannot allow other people, including casual collectors, to collect on their land.

This guidebook is also available in print form as Kansas Geological Survey, Open-file Report 2002-42, from KGS Publications Sales office, 785-864-3965.

Unless noted otherwise, illustrations by Jennifer Sims, Kansas Geological Survey; photographs by John Charlton, Kansas Geological Survey. Text by Liz Brosius, Jim McCauley, Bob Sawin, and Rex Buchanan, Kansas Geological Survey.

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