Long before the inception of the Hooters shorts, years before the creation of the first Rocky's sub, predating the archaic Jeff boat, life thrived beneath the Indiana shore. Evidence of the miraculous, prehistoric life forms can still be seen just across the bridge at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.
Nestled just beyond the chain restaurant oasis of Jeffersonville at exit 0, is an incredible gem of Kentuckiana. Falls of the Ohio State Park was once covered by a shallow tropical sea about 387 million years ago. Yeah, that's a long time. During the retreat of the Ice Age glaciers, rushing melt-water carved out the area that was once an ancient coral sea floor. A plethora of fossilized sea creatures (more than 600 species to be exact) such as corals, sponges, brachiopods (extinct shellfish), mollusks, and echinoderms (starfish, sea urchins, etc.) can be witnessed, touched, dusted with an old toothbrush, or tread upon by the tiniest of archeologists. The state park consists of approximately 165 acres of land that houses picnic areas, an interpretive center, and a vast area of Devonian fossil beds preserved in limestone.
When my family arrived at the park, it was already hotter than a pepper sprout outside, so we heeded the warning on the interpretation center door: Limestone beds can be 20 degrees hotter than the outside temperature due to the sun's reflection. Interpretation center (and air condition) it was. Inside, we learned about the river's history from prehistoric geology to the steamboat. Cases of arrowheads dating back hundreds of thousands of years were particularly interesting as were paddlefish replicas and models of the ancient reefs. The history buff would also find the center worthwhile--the area was influential to such greats as Lewis and Clark, Twain and Whitman. My children, 3 and 6, enjoyed the Ohio River fish tank and the giant wooly mammoth statue, but mostly they were eager to explore the fossils down below on the scorching riverbank.
Once outside on the beds, sunglasses and sunscreen were a must as the sun beams off the sparkling white limestone like a giant tanning bed. Immediately, we spotted distinct coral remnants and many brachiopods. Although we were merely hypothesizing about the animals' identities, I did see a guide lead a three-man group pointing out accurate highlights of the fossil beds. Whether your family opts for a guide or decides to conduct their own fossil hunting expedition, what lies down below the Falls is truly remarkable. And here I thought the Sunny-Side was only good for Hoosier jokes.
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