History of the Fossil Discovery Exhibit

The original Fossil Bone Exhibit in 1957

The site of the Fossil Discovery Exhibit in Big Bend National Park has a long-standing history of providing paleontological information to curious park visitors. John Wilson, the founder and first Director of the Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin, oversaw the establishment of the first paleontology exhibit in Big Bend National Park in 1957. This exhibit, then called the Fossil Bone Exhibit, was one of the first of its kind within the NPS, displaying actual mammal fossils as they had been discovered. The fossils remained in the rock where they were uncovered, but a building was constructed around the rocks to allow visitors the opportunity to see a naturally occurring fossil. The fossil mammals were from the Hannold Hill Formation (55 million years ago) and included early mammals like the primitive horse-like Hyracotherium and the hippo-like Coryphodon. The site remained a popular roadside stop for visitors until the 1990s.

The second Fossil Bone Exhibit, present from 1990 until the spring of 2016

In the spring of 1990 the park wanted to make the Fossil Bone Exhibit more accessible for all visitors and the building was moved closer to the parking lot. Unfortunately, this meant that visitors were no longer seeing the fossils as they came out of the ground. The original fossils were replaced with casts, which remained there until the spring of 2016 when construction began on the new Fossil Discovery Exhibit.

Big Bend National Park geologist Don Corrick has worked at the park for over twenty years. He has dreamed of replacing the outdated display of casts with an exhibit that did a better job celebrating the diversity and abundance of fossils found in the park. After years of advocating for a new exhibit, and with help from the Big Bend Conservancy and the National Park Foundation, Corrick’s vision will finally come to life with the opening of the Fossil Discovery Exhibit.