Highway 190 traverses a long northwestern-trending valley or trough flanked on the north by the steep and rugged Funeral Mountains. The mountains were just barely visible through the rainclouds, but we could make out thick gray sedimentary layers tilted to a high angle. Taken all together, the layers are very thick, approaching 20,000 feet, around four miles. There is quite a story in those rocks.
The Grand Canyon is a justly famous and spectacular monument to the forces of geology, but the Paleozoic layers there are only 4,000 feet thick, and entire periods (the Ordovician and Silurian) are missing. The fossil record is incomplete. Death Valley National Park on the other hand has layers dating from every period within the Paleozoic era, as well as Cenozoic layers that are entirely missing from the Grand Canyon. It has one of the greatest fossil records to be found anywhere in the national park system. That what we were out to find that afternoon: fossils!
Other finds of the day included corals and brachiopods. For the students, it was the beginning of an understanding that the desert beneath their feet was truly a place where water once was, but was no longer. And with the continuing rain, it was a place where water was once again, however termporary.