Phatfossils - White River Badlands

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Fossils from the White River Badlands?

White River Badlands

The White River Badlands is the term used to describe a unique set of fossil bearing formations distributed across north western Nebraska, south western South Dakota, eastern Wyoming and northern Denver. Due to water and wind erosion over millions of years these formations are re-exposed and eroding exposing fossils in various outcrops spread across the four states. The area outlined in blue to the right shows generally the extent of these outcrops. The area in red in where our fossil ranch, the M&M Ranch, is located and where all of our white river fossils are from.

The white river name itself comes from the white river to which a good portion of this area drains into. The badlands themselves are made up of areas of high, highly eroded peaks to areas with small mounds and straight flat collecting areas know as flats. The peaks and mounds are comprised of mostly clay, some areas much softer than others. There are intermittent hard cap bands spread through out the formations which can be easily seen in the high peaks. When dry the exposed surface appears a drab tan or beigh,. When wet, these formations come alive, with grays, greens, lime greens, browns, whites and sometimes red.

Picture from the M&M Fossil ranch showing erosion on one of the peaks. Notice the small ledge formed by one of the intermintent rock hard layersOn the M&M Ranch showing some mounded collecting areas with peaks off in the distance
Picture a day after a light rain showing the colors at this particular location within the white river badlands

The various formations of the white river badlands deposits where laid down in the late Eocene to early Oligocene. The chadron formation, an Eocene deposit starts it off at around 40 million years ago during the chadronian. During this time giant mammals such as titanotheres and giant pigs, archaeotheriums could be found. As you progress into the Oliogcene portion of the white river badlands you have the brule formation which is broken down into the scenic and poleslides members, raniging respectively from 35-32mya, the orellan and 32-25mya the whitneyan. The super animals such as the titanotheres and the biggest of the giant pigs are no longer present.

During the this time the area was most likely flat and covered with wandering rivers, swamps and lakes. Life was flourishing at all levels with animals such as oreodonts, camels, horses, saber cats, dogs, pigs, titanothers, turtles and tortises, birds and lizards roaming around. We know these animals existed based on the fossil remains that have been found in the white river badlands. Myself along with most other collectors are quite pleased at the sheer abundance of fossils some of these areas put out. It is believed this area was a alluvial flood plain which helped lead to the large number of fossils that can be found. After being deposited and waiting for millions of years the fossils expose them selves, countless hours off walking around in these areas can result coming across them.

Fossil tortoise just exposing itself for the first time in around 30 million years.Oreodont skull ready for the collecting

The thing that we love most about the white river badlands is the opportunity for something amazing. If you find a white river location that is productive and put your time in you will find some amazing fossils. Here are just a few of the white river fossils we have collected in the past few years. To see all of them go further down the page to the Fossils of the White River Badlands section below

Fossil oreodont skull from the white river badlands.Fossil rhino skull from the white river badlands

Awesome Hoplophoneus Primavaeus, saber cat from the white river badlandsLove these little tortoises from the white river badlands

Here is another set of photos of a tortoise that was found on the M&M Ranch. This will give you an idea of the process of getting a fossil from the field to display. As you can see in the first photo, only a small portion of the shell of this tortoise was exposed when found. After a bit of fossil digging it was confirmed that it was going to be a nice tortoise and well worth digging out. The fossil was then jacket and removed from the ground. After some prep worked it turned out quite nicely. Odd how the exposed piece when dried turned a whitish color.

Tortoise barley exposing itself after millions of years and the the same tortoise completely dug outr ready to jacket.

Same tortoise front back after prep

White River Badlands Fossils

Archaeotherium mortoni


Dinictis felina

Hoplophoneus Primaevus

Merycoidodon Culbertsoni