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From the Field

Digging up 10 Million Years of History


A note about COVID-19 and visiting parks: Help stop the spread of COVID-19 and follow all current directives from your governor and local health officials about wearing face masks and physical distancing.

As a student and intern, I spend most of my time indoors, and there are times I realize that sitting in front of a screen is unnatural and I need to get away. I feel a need to walk out and take a breath of real air. Sometimes, that’s just not enough.

Sometimes you need a day to breathe fresh air and be a kid again. Calvert Cliffs State Park is the place to be if that is what you are looking for. Located at 10540 H. G. Trueman Road in Lusby, Maryland, Calvert Cliffs is an amazing scenic cliffside with a clean and uncrowded beach. 

At the park’s entrance is an incredibly colorful playground composed mainly of recycled tires. The park has a $5 entrance fee. Near the lot is a map of the park’s trails at a large gazebo. My friends and I decided to take the red trail--the shortest route to the beach--since we were there to look for fossils.

The Calvert Cliffs are made of mostly clay and were submerged under a shallow sea about 20 millions years ago. As water levels lowered over time, the cliffs became exposed and are now known to release fossils that wash back onto the shore. Possible fossils to find range from Megaladon teeth to scallop shells. Large teeth are very rare. The most common fossils are shells from mollusks such as scallops or mussels.

The trail is approximately 1.8 miles long and starts off wide before merging with a black asphalt path and cutting back into the forest. It follows a small stream and eventually opens up to an amazing wide open and very scenic marsh area.

As we pass through the marsh area, we can smell the distinct sulfuric scent for which marshes and swamps are known and that indicates decomposition. It is not unpleasant, and the beauty of the marshland and its harmonic cacophony of sounds is amazing.

Past the marsh is the famous Calvert Cliffs and a small beach area. The first thing my friends and I saw was a makeshift box of items that beach-goers and fossil hunters share. It was filled with items from sandcastle buckets to sifters for fossil hunting.

Much like an archeological dig, to look for fossils you have to dig up a plot and put the sand into a sifter to find larger artifacts. To do so, you will need a small shovel or trowel and a sifter. The sifters in the communal box are made from window screens but professional ones are made of a metal grid on a wooden frame. The beach was littered with holes and piles of shells scattered about from other travelers looking for fossils.

We borrowed sifters and a small toy shovel and made our way down the beach to look for a free spot to start digging. An important thing to note is that a large portion of the beach to the left side is restricted as it is prone to landslides due to erosion. After about an hour or so we took a break and just watched the waves hit the beach as the sun began to set. The wind was blowing and we were covered in sand without finding any fossils we wanted to keep, but the effort was oddly satisfying.

Try Calvert Cliffs State Park. I think it’s nature’s little personal getaway spot.

James Chang

While James was born out of state he considers himself a Marylander and views Maryland as his home. While growing up he spent much of his time exploring the wooded areas and forests closest to where he lived. With this James grew to become very passionate about the Maryland wildlife as well as ecology as a whole.

May 30, 2016

Main image: Credit: Alliecat1881/Flickr
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