Nature is full of all sorts of interesting little things that many people like to take advantage of - especially on nice summer days. There are plenty of opportunities to just take it all in, with hikes and nature trails and bike paths and campgrounds.
But going into parks and nature preserves is also like going to a museum or other historic site, even if you don't even realize it! Just ask any geologist, archaeologist, or paleontologist and you'll discover a lot by simply looking at the rocks too.
Do you know the difference between those three professions? Well, for one thing, the Indiana Jones hat is sadly not an official part of the uniform for all archaeologists so it might be a little harder to spot them from the bunch. But archaeologists study the people and the things they leave behind, and geologists study the actual rocks to learn more about the Earth. The study of fossils - any plants, animals or other life forms - is undertaken by paleontologists. Yes, this includes the magnificent dinosaurs we all can't help but wonder about.
So for all amateur geologists and paleontologists, there are a few stops in the capital region worth a look:
The Return of the Dinosaurs exhibit at the Museum of Innovation and Science will certainly pique the budding paleontologist's interest with its dedication to educating visitors about different types of dinosaurs.
The dinosaurs here have realistic skin, moving body parts, can roar and screech, and interact with each other in natural-looking environments. It's building on the continuously growing information base on prehistoric animals, viewing dinos as sociable creatures. You can even check out what adult and juvenile dinosaurs may have looked like.
There are 10 different kinds of dinosaurs you can learn more about while they're on display for all to see. Visitors can get some paleontologist experience with the dino dig site, fossil rubbing station, and their hands-on discovery stations throughout the museum.
Plan a trip to John Boyd Thacher State Park and you'll probably be able to spot some interesting things in the rocks. This state park is one of the prime spots for an Earth Science filed trip! Located along the Helderberg Escarpment are multiple kinds of rocks such as sandstone, shale, and limestone. The New Scotland Limestone beds of the escarpment are the most fossiliferous (that's a fun word, huh?) in the area. It's a trip for geologists and paleontologists to enjoy...and for those just looking to enjoy the day in the state park.
It's got some great views of the Hudson-Mohawk Valleys and the Adirondack and Green Mountains, and guided tours of Indian Ladder Trail are available. The Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center, located in the Thompson's Lake Campground area of the park, is a fun place to stop in and learn more about the area too.
Up for more adventures in digging around? Well then, head out to Howe Caverns in Schoharie. Touring the cave, you can see the limestone formations as time and the underground river molded the rocks. You even get to ride along the river as a part of the "Traditional" tour of the cave. And, there are options to take part in some gemstone mining, and geode cracking.
The Howe Caverns Mining Company also has arrowhead mining for those future archaeologists and fossil mining for the future paleontologist to enjoy along with the geologic wonders. Aboveground, Howe Caverns also has a bunch of adventurous activities like zip-lining and their H2OGO Balls for people to do their best impression of a hamster! You can make it a full-day expedition with all of the Howe's High Adventure accommodations at this spot.
For an experience that'll satisfy the geologist, the archaeologist, and the paleontologist, the New York State Museum has an amazing variety of displays for visitors. There is a section devoted to the archaeological discoveries that digs in and around Albany have uncovered - from Native American settlements, to Dutch, colonial and on through history.
There is a gem and mineral exhibit within the Adirondack exhibit of the museum, displaying samples from all over the state. There is even a case for the luminescent rocks that are really cool to look at when all lit up. You can look at the official state gemstone too, the wine red garnet. Be sure to check out the gift shop to take home a specimen of your own!
And, of course, there are plenty of fossil-related exhibits too. Did you know that New York has an official state fossil? It might be hard to think about, but a sizable part of New York was once under water.
This means that there are a bunch of aquatic fossils like starfish that visitors can see immediately on their visit since they're set up right in the lobby. But the official state fossil is the Eurypterus remipes, a prehistoric sea scorpion that lived during the Silurian Age 400 million years ago.
The State Museum also has some dinosaur-related fossils too. But there really isn't a wealth of dino fossils or megafauna fossils from New York - there are plenty of small, marine-dwelling invertebrates from the early Paleozoic Era (542 million years ago to 251 million years ago), but a lack of sediment placement in New York from the Mesozoic (252 to 66 million years ago- dinosaur era) and Cenozoic Eras (65 million years ago up to the present) leaves paleontologists a little bummed if they're out for only the big guys. But you can see their exhibit on paleobotany that they have out on display now too if you're looking to see a variety of fossils!
There are some pretty cool fossils of footprints of dinosaurs though. The New York State Museum has some of these fossils, which date to the late Triassic period (200 million years ago) and provide evidence for roving packs of Coelophysis.
This dinosaur would've traveled far since its fossils are usually in New Mexico (and are that state's official fossil). But paleontologists aren't totally sure about which dinosaur made the footprints and so, attribute them to an "ichnogenus" called Grallator.
The New York State Museum is also known for some other impressive finds too. The Cohoes Mastadon is one of those, and the Woolly Mammoth is another. Okay, so there might be a few years difference between the dinosaurs and these creatures (fun fact: the mammoth and mastodon were actually still roaming around after the Great Pyramids of Egypt were built...) but they are still megafauna that would make anyone interested in what kinds of things can be found in the dirt!
And if you're still looking for signs of dinosaurs - a true, perservering paleontologist - you might want to make things a little easier and take up birdwatching....our state dinosaur might just be the Sialia sialis (otherwise known as the Eastern Bluebird)