If you are looking for an adventure to share with the kids, a nice way to stay cool and still be outdoors is paddling the Peace River panning for fossils. Watching the excitement on children’s faces with each fossil that is uncovered is pure joy. It is amazing that some of these specimens are 12 million years old!
The Peace River in the southwestern part of the Florida Peninsula is well known for its prehistoric finds mainly from the Pleistocene (2 million years ago) and Miocene (12-28 million years ago) eras. Due to its slow current, the Peace River is one of the few places in Florida were the fossils found here can be very well preserved.
If you are new to fossil hunting, Fossil Expeditions run by author Mark Renz of Fossiling in Florida, offers tours that include walking or canoeing. My son and I did our first excursion this way. He sets his tour in different locations of the River. This time we met in Wachula. Mark gave a brief overview of the fossils we were expected to see and how to identify them. He also gave a lesson in panning etiquette so as not to dump filtered through remains in your neighbors digging area. After the 20 minute speech, we preceded to head down stream in our Kayaks. We stopped about on mile downstream from the put in and we began to dig. Mark’s philosophy is to keep digging in the same area. The deeper you dig the more likely you are to find the uncommon specimens.
For larger groups or independent types, another way to experience the Peace River is renting a canoe from the Canoe Outpost in Arcadia, Florida. They offer half day, full day, and overnight runs. You can stop anywhere along the ride and pan for fossils until your hearts content. Just make sure you are back by 5:00 PM. My son and I took some friends on this section after we were thoroughly schooled by Mr. Rentz. We could show our friends the ropes and were fairly adept ourselves at identifying the finds. We picked up the Fossilized Shark’s Teeth and Fossils Guide by Byron Fink at the Canoe Outpost to aid us in identifying our finds. This guide offers full color photos of the various sharks teeth, horse teeth, dugong, barracuda, tiger and other fossils commonly found in the Peace River. The Megalodon Shark tooth is still always the key find on any excursion. If you are not familiar with this monster shark, ask any child and they will fill you in!
Fossils we were able to identify included: Prehistoric Horse tooth, Snaggle Tooth, Alligator tooth, various sharks teeth, Megalodon tooth, turtle shell, dugong ribs, deer antler, sting ray, tiger and other misc bone specimens.
About the Peace River: Originating just south of Bartow, Florida where the Peace Creek and Saddle Creek merge together, the river flows 106 miles to flow through Polk Hardee, Desoto, and Charlotte Counties emptying into the Gulf of Mexico at Charlotte Harbor.