By Theresa “Resa” Leppert
This past Friday, my sister-in-law and I had to go to Coralville Lake Corps of Engineers office to purchase annual national parks passes for our upcoming vacation. As we were pulling in to the area, I said “Hey, why haven’t we camped here together?” I then remembered the “Fossil Gorge.” More than a decade ago, our daughter, Amelia, was REALLY into fossils. While camping at Lake MacBride, we discovered the Devonian Fossil Gorge. It is a small valley at the base of the Coralville Lake Spillway that is COVERED in fossils. I mean, they are everywhere! I was telling SIL Pat about the place. She suggested that we should come camp here and find that “fossil place” and check it out.
So we go in to the Army Corps of Engineers office and purchase our passes. Pat and I decided to take a trip to Trader Joes since we are so close. We made the executive decision to take a more interesting off the beaten path route. As we start cross at the base of the spillway, HOLY CANNOLI – there is the DEVONIAN FOSSIL GORGE! Literally RIGHT THERE! It’s Fate, Karma, Serendipity – whatever!
Giggling like a couple of school girls, we gleefully park and spend the next hour exploring the Gorge.
Definitely a place to take your kids or grandkids!
If you’ve never been, you must take the time to check this out! By yourself, with your spouse, kids, grandkids…. It’s such an interesting place!
History – discovered in 1993!
Sometimes, good things can come out of tough situations. Back in 1993, the lake levels finally overtopped the spillway in a spectacular way. For more than 28 days, as much as 17,000 cubic feet of water PER SECOND flowed down the spillway, obliterating the road and the campground. The massive flood of water scoured away the silt and sand, exposing the limestone bedrock. This incredible piece of history came to light when the flood waters finally receded. The Devonian Fossil Gorge had made its presence known.
Various entities raised approximately $500,000 to create the Biostrome Plaza, an interesting and educational entry point.
There was yet another flood in 2008!
Well, it IS at the base of the spillway, right? In 2008, another flood damaged the walkway and undercut the sidewalk. That flood also washed away most of the metal plates marking points of interest. Thankfully, the Corps was able to repair it all, and the beautiful entry Plaza was not damaged! You can read more here: https://www.mvr.usace.army.mil/Missions/Recreation/Coralville-Lake/Recreation/Devonian-Fossil-Gorge/Gorge-History/
PBS did a lovely video about the Gorge. You can watch it here: https://www.iowapbs.org/iowapathways/artifact/devonian-fossil-gorge
Here is a link to a brochure: https://www.mvr.usace.army.mil/Portals/48/docs/Recreation/ODC/Gorge%20brochure%202010.pdf
There are many Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds literally within walking distance of this beautiful window to the past. We plan to camp there next season – how about you?
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Theresa “Resa” Leppert
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