Fort Worth family finds fossil trove while on a routine walk along Marine Creek Lake

FORT WORTH -- A routine walk along Marine Creek Lake led a man and his kids to Cretaceous Texas.

Sam Loynachan, his 4-year-old son, Sam Jr., and his 6-year-old daughter, Kylee, saw something weird poking through the dirt they'd walked over many times.

"It had been raining for almost two weeks straight," Loynachan said. "Some of the stuff turned up just on the surface, kind of coming out of the ground. We started digging, but not really deep, basically just taking the top layer off."

Before they finished pulling fossils out of the dirt, they had more than 50 pieces, Loynachan said.

"I have a 5-gallon bucket full of small ones and a couple more buckets of pieces," he said.

The kids were ecstatic over their finds.

"We thought they were dinosaur bones," their dad said. "They were pretty happy. They came home and got their shovels and trowels and went back out."

Loynachan said he sent photos of the fossils "to a couple of places to see what they were. I didn't get much response."

But one place he sent them was the Star-Telegram, which forwarded the photographs to the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. It turns out that the fossils aren't dinosaur bones.

"They are fossil ammonites and burrow casts," said Aaron Pan, the museum's curator. "They were prolific during the Cretaceous period here in Texas."

Pan said ammonites are a group of extinct cephalopods, mollusks similar to the octopus, squid, cuttlefish and nautilus.

"Just because these are common fossils shouldn't discourage the finders," he said. "It's a good discovery and shows that we have a very good fossil record here in North Texas."

The Metroplex is rich with fossils, and amateurs and experts alike have made significant finds over the years.

More than 35 years ago, workers found a 25-foot plesiosaur during the construction of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. That fish fossil, 70 million years old, is still on display at D/FW.

In 2006, while picking up pockets full of shark teeth and prehistoric fish fossils at a Mansfield construction site, avid hunter Lance Hall found Aetodactylus halli, a previously unknown species of pterosaur. He'd taken up paleontology as a hobby only a year earlier and suddenly became part of history.

"It's interesting that after all this time and all these studies, there are still new animals out there waiting to be found," Hall said. "There's always the chance of that one rare thing."

Fossil collectors have found 100-million-year-old bones of turtles, giant crocodiles, sharks and duck-billed dinosaurs at the Arlington Archosaur Site, a prolific fossil field discovered in 2003 near a landfill in far north Arlington.

And just north of Loop 820, the banks of Fossil Creek are full of fossils and other remains from a 90-million-year-old ocean.

Fantastic finds are waiting for people who are interested enough to look, Pan said.

"Some of the dinosaurs we have at our museum were discovered by children," he said.

Loynachan said the experience changed the family walks.

"Whenever we go out there, we don't dedicate hours to looking, but we're keeping our eyes out," he said. "I'm an outdoors kind of guy, looking for animal tracks and flowers, so I'm always watching the ground. The kids are doing that now, too."

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.