You can travel back a century to an old mining town or go back to ancient times for a glimpse of prehistoric reptiles when you visit Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park in Nevada. It is two parks in one, plus a campground!
The park was established in 1957 to preserve what was then North America’s largest known concentration of ichthyosaur fossils. Ichthyosaurs are big fishlike reptiles that lived millions of years ago. Many of the fossils were left where they were found and can be viewed in the park. The specimens are protected from the elements by a large viewing shelter.
The park also preserves the century-old mining town of Berlin and its mine. The Ichthyosaur fossil section of the park is a Registered Natural Landmark and the section containing the historic Berlin town site is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Mining activity began in May 1863 when a small party of prospectors discovered silver in Union Canyon. In 1864, the Union Mining District was formed and included the towns of Union, Grantsville and Ione. (Union is within the boundaries of the park, the other two sites are outside. All three are worth a visit.)
The first assay confirming gold and silver in Berlin Canyon was performed in 1869, but it would be another 27 years before the Berlin mine and the town of Berlin were established. With the success of the mine, the town boomed until 1908, when it quickly declined as the ore gave out. By 1911, the town was dead.
During the boom years, Berlin and the old settlement of Union where some miners lived supported about 250 people, including miners, loggers, businessmen, a forest ranger, a doctor, a nurse and a prostitute. The buildings of Berlin included a 30-stamp mill, barn and corrals, assay office, union hall, store and post office, hospital, stage station and many homes. Numerous buildings still remain. Many of the pioneer residents are buried in the cemetery below town.
The mine was excavated via an incline shaft with eight lower levels. Its three miles of tunnels produced an estimated $849,000 at a time when gold was a mere $20 an ounce. The still standing Berlin Mill processed the ore.
Today Berlin is an authentic ghost town. Visitors can walk through the old town site, read the numerous interpretive signs, glance into the windows and imagine what life must have been like during this vibrant period of Nevada’s past.
The weathered buildings are very photogenic, so be sure to have lots of disk space available on your camera when you visit.
Ichthyosaurs (ICK-thee-o-soars) were ancient marine reptiles that looked and swam like fish and varied in length from two feet to more than 70 feet. Their young were born alive and had very large eyes in relation to the rest of the body. These meat- eating reptiles probably ate squid, mollusks and fish. Like every reptile, ichthyosaur breathed air and resembled modern ocean-dwelling mammals like whales and dolphins.
Ichthyosaur fossils exist on all continents except Antarctica. The fact that they thrived in varying environments makes their extinction a mystery to scientists. Some of the ichthyosaurs found in the park are among the largest specimens known in the world, reaching 50 feet in length. There is an example of a large ichthyosaur sculpted into a retaining wall outside the viewing shelter to give you an idea of the immense scale of these creatures.
Dr. Siemon Muller found the fossilized remains of the ichthyosaurs in 1928, and excavation continued through the 1960s. Nearly 40 fossils were found.
Today, tours of the viewing shelter not only provide a glimpse of this fascinating creature, but an example of the excavation settings encountered in contemporary paleontology.
Dave Helgeson and his wife promote manufactured home & RV shows in western Washington. They spend their free time traveling and enjoying the RV lifestyle. Join in their RVing adventures by following Dave’s weekly blog at rvlife.com.
IF YOU GO:
Directions: Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park is in the west-central part of Nevada. It is 23 miles east of Gabbs, and is reached via State Route 844. The park is open year-round but extreme winter weather may hinder travel. Nestled at 7,000 feet on the picturesque western slope of the Shoshone mountain range, the park provides an immense array of recreational opportunities. Shaded wood hillsides combined with pleasant mountain breezes help to moderate the summer temperatures, which seldom exceed 90 degrees. Late spring and early fall are often the nicest times to visit. Winter treks to the park are possible, but check weather and road conditions before proceeding.
Camping: 14 spacious sites among the junipers, some suitable for RVs to 25 feet, with fire rings, barbecue grills, covered tables, drinking water (mid-April to October) and vault toilets nearby. RV dump station is available. A nature trail connects the campground to the fossil viewing shelter.
Berlin Town Site Tour: Extensive interpretive signs convey the history and features of the Berlin and Union town sites for self-guided exploration.
Fossil Viewing Shelter Tour: Tours are 40 minutes in length and are offered at various times from mid-March to mid-November. Information and viewing windows are available at the fossil shelter if you cannot attend a tour program.
Mine Tour: Tours are offered from May 1 to September 30.
Information: Details about tours, camping and other information can be found at parks.nv.gov/bi.htm. The phone number is (775) 964-2440.Research Campgrounds, Plan RV Safe Routes & Turn your phone into an RV GPS.
Try the RV LIFE Pro Bundle FREE for 7 days