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A couple of years ago a fellow collector and club member introduced me to a favored collecting spot on the banks of Skiatook Lake in Osage County, Oklahoma. At first glance, you would readily notice large slabs of tan and brown rock intermingled with the more traditional grays and whites of limestone. On closer inspection, you would be somewhat impressed with the number of marine fossils, mostly brachiopods, embedded in the rocks. Along the rocky shoreline, there is typically a small strip of worn rock and gravels that contain numerous marine fossils weathered from the host rock. These might include several types of brachiopods, several species of gastropods, numerous crinoid parts, the occasional cephalopod, both straight and coiled, and if one is very fortunate, the occasional crinoid calyx may be found in matrix.

The first time we went to Tall Chief Cove, everything was pristine. The shoreline was wild and deserted; the waves gently lapped at the gravel and swirled around the standing dead trees just offshore. A light breeze made for a comfortable day of collecting. We spent the better part of three hours searching the gravels for fossils, and indeed, we collected quite a few different varieties. Another marine fossil to be found here is a conularia, a pyramidal shaped shell that was a squid-type creature, and similar in appearance to a baculites cephalopod. This soon became an obsession with my youngest son, then 13 or so. His priority was and still is to find the biggest and best conularia in the county. So far he has the title.

It was nearly a year or more before we went back to Tall Chief Cove to collect. We found the same pristine shoreline, and more of the wonderfully preserved marine fossils to be had there. Off and on we would return to Tall Chief Cove to collect when we needed a local collecting spot for a Saturday or Sunday excursion. Then about eight months ago, we returned to Tall Chief Cove. It was the weekend of June 7th, 2006. When we arrived, the swimming beach where we usually parked to access the cove was closed due to low water levels. We parked near the boat ramp and found a ranger on duty there, trying to keep folks out of the swimming area. We spoke with him about accessing the beach, and he advised that he couldn't let us cross the swimming area because he had to keep people away from it for safety reasons. He did however tell us that if we parked up near the closed gate to the swimming beach and walked in, as long as he didn't see us and no one else did, we could walk in from there. Then he told us about a private development just inside the park gate, where a developer was doing some dirt work, and that we could probably drive right to the end of the cove where we wanted to go. He agreed that the shoreline there was probably the best fossil collecting anywhere on the lake.

We had no trouble finding the trace that led us down to within yards of the shoreline. We found that the private development called "Cross Timbers" was planning to build all sorts of amenities just above the beach where we collect. Some of these proposed amenities are a dockside kiosk and boat docks. Apparently they are planning to put in a fountain and waterfall in a small cove, a restaurant, fitness center, and all sorts of things. Essentially, they plan to commercialize and colonize the entire shoreline for over a mile.

At this point, there had not been much done to the shoreline, other than the small cove where they had built up a rock wall and done some dozer work on top of the hill. The beach itself was still pretty much as it was the first time we were there.



As you can see in the photos above, the shoreline is still fairly wild and rough. The water level is up a bit so some of the better collecting is currently under water here. However, the exposed shoreline still provides good collecting opportunities for us. I decided that due to the impending development on the cove, that this would be a good time to schedule a field trip for TRMS members to recover and preserve specimens from the locality before it was made inaccessible or construction destroyed the locality.

I organized a field trip for TRMS members for July, and on July 23rd we had a record turnout for this little fossil hunt. Members from Tulsa Rock and Mineral, as well as some members of the Broken Arrow Paleo Society gathered and spent the better part of the day collecting and marveling at the great specimens they were finding. Many were already weathered from the matrix and their extremely durable nature lent to great preservation of detail in many. Everyone enjoyed this field trip and went home with some great specimens.


TRMS member Gary Cooper takes a break, As you can see, the shoreline is still wild and rough, and productive, Tony Morris wonders where that elusive Conularia is hiding...


The lake level is down several feet at this time, and the gravels are very productive. This is an ideal time to be collecting the fossils here. After a very productive day, everyone was happy.

Let's jump ahead here to early November, 2006. Just three months have passed, and here we are in the fall season. The leaves have changed their colors, and Tall Chief Cove is as beautiful as ever wrapped in yellows, gold, and browns. We decided to go see how the beach looked, knowing that the lake levels had dropped another several feet in the past three months. Hoping for some good exposures of gravels and lots of fossils to find, we headed into the cove on the development road. It didn't look much different than it had in July, so we were hopeful for some good collecting. It was a nice day with a few clouds floating around, not too hot or too cold. I had brought my nephew with me and he was excited to be back here to collect more fossils. As we approached through the woods to the crest of the hill above the cove, everything looked great. Then it happened! We topped the hill above the beach, and it was gone! I was quite taken aback by what I saw had been done to the shoreline. Tons of shale had been dozed over the beach to the east of the wall, and what used to be a drop-off to the west end of the beach had been dozed off and now there was a road where the beach used to be... All of the near shore rock had been dozed and moved to level off the shoreline, and it was evident that the best of the collecting area was now gone, the victim of progress, commercialization, and greed.

After following the dozer tracks all the way to the west end of the beach, we could readily tell that it would soon be like the east end of the cove, under tons of shale. It is also evident that the developer plans to have boat docks the entire length of the south shore of the cove, the primary collecting area. The massive blocks of sandstone and limestone that once lay strewn about were nowhere to be seen, and all of the matrix rock was now mixed in with clay and sand, nothing like it was just three short months ago.





It's only going to get worse, as the development continues, the collecting opportunities continue to diminish. Soon there will be boat docks, kiosks, and limited access, and the beach that once was will exist only in these pictures. The fossils will still be there and perhaps in a couple of hundred years nature will reclaim the beach once again. Perhaps future rockhounds will rediscover Tall Chief Cove. For now, we have to bid farewell to a great collecting spot and move on to greener pastures.


Related Articles:


Little Blue Rabbit

Field Trip Report, Skiatook Lake, Tallchief Cove


Copyright 2006, Virgil G. Richards







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