During the Miocene epoch, the Pacific shoreline lay at the eastern margin of the southern San Joaquin Valley. To the east, where desert landscapes exist today, there was a semi-tropical savanna environment inhabited by camels, horses, tapirs, sloths and elephants. The shallow sea was home to nearly two dozen of species of dolphins, whales, pinnipeds (seals, sea lions and walruses) and other sea-going mammals, including a hippo-like creature called Desmostylus. The fauna also included turtles, crocodiles, and numerous birds. Something needed to fill the slot at the top of the food chain, and given the name of the locality, it isn't too surprisingly a group of sharks. Lots of them; about 27 species of sharks and rays have been discovered here, including the Discovery Channel's favorite, the massive Carcharodon megalodon.
The layers exposed at Sharktooth Hill (along the Kern River upstream of the town of Bakersfield) have yielded up not just thousands of specimens, but hundreds of thousands. In some places, a shovelful of dirt would have hundreds of teeth inside. Numerous studies have been undertaken at the site; a good review can be found here. The national significance of the site was recognized in 1976 as Sharktooth Hill was added to the United States Landmark Registry.
Sharktooth Hill is one of the most important fossil localities in the western United States, and one of the more important fossil collections to have come out of the hill is now being sold by the widow of an amateur paleontologist. The fossils in question have been on public display for a number of years at the CALM Zoo and more recently at the Buena Vista Museum of Natural History. They have hopes of getting the Allodesmus fossil (a primitive sea lion), but the price is too steep for their budget at around $150,000. I hope that some sort of arrangement can be made that will allow the fossil collection to remain accessible to the public. It is a great resource.
The Other California is my continuing series of what to see in our great state when you've visited all the really famous places that show up on all the postcards.