The State Park Where Ghost Town Meets Dinosaur Fossils

Imagine a state park that combines a Wild West ghost town with ichthyosaur fossils? Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park is located in remote Nevada, on the western slope of the Shoshone Mountain Range in central Nevada. Nevada is full of Old West ghost towns as well as bustling Old West towns like Virginia City just outside of Reno.

Nevada is a state full of attractions and is perhaps one of the most underrated states for outdoor enthusiasts. Nevada has the Great Basin National Park on one side of the state while the other side of the state is home to half of Lake Tahoe. Las Vegas is only a small part of Nevada and there are plenty of attractions for those who wish to explore the interior of the state.

Berlin’s mining boom

Berlin was built in the 1890s and today is preserved in a state of arrested disrepair and is one of many ghost towns in Nevada. Many original buildings remain while some original residents of the distant town are buried in the local cemetery.

  • Berlin Village Tour: This is a self-guided tour

Berlin was built around the mine (there were tours of the Diana mine but these were canceled in 2019 for safety reasons). Today, one can walk through the city along the paths and discover the history of Berlin and its mine. Today, the ore mill is still standing and the old mercury floating tables are still visible.

Berlin was a gold rush city that was founded in 1896 when gold veins were discovered in the area. But the town became unprofitable in 1911. People started moving away and it was deserted soon after.

  • Notable houses still standing: A stagecoach shop and stable, blacksmith shop, machine shop, analysis office

Related: Nevada Is More Than UFOs and Vegas: Visit Great Basin National Park Instead

What to know about ichthyosaurs and the fossil house

Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park is also home to the most abundant concentration and largest known remains of ichthyosaurs. These ancients were giant marine reptiles from the age of the dinosaurs, but weren’t actually dinosaurs. They swam in the ancient ocean that once lay over what is now the high deserts of Nevada.

  • Warm ocean: Covered central Nevada 225 million years ago
  • Ichthyosaurs: A type of giant marine reptile (not really dinosaurs)
  • Fossil House Tour: Visits are canceled until further notice
  • 40 Ichthyosaurs: were found in the region

Fossil remains of these mighty creatures can be seen still in the ground and protected in the park’s Fossil House. The fossils were first discovered in 1928, and excavations took place in the 1960s. Around 40 ichthyosaurs have been discovered in total, including some of the largest ever found.

  • Species: Shonisaurus (a genus of ichthyosaur:)
  • Lived: Approximately 237 to 227 million years ago

The first ichthyosaurs appeared around 250 million years ago, with some species surviving up to 90 million years ago, meaning they lived from the Early Triassic to the Late Cretaceous.

Ichthyosaurs are descended from a yet unidentified type of land reptile that returned to the sea (but were not of the same lineage as the dinosaurs). It is believed that these reptiles returned to the sea in the same way that mammals like dolphins and whales also returned to the sea.

At the time of writing (April 2022), guided tours of the Fossil House have been canceled until further notice. Check the schedule on their official website to see when they will be offered again.

Related: Does Lake Tahoe Really Live Up To The Hype? Let’s find out

Other things to do in Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park

Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park is remote and in the middle of Nevada, so you might consider camping there for the night. There are 14 well-spaced camping units open year-round. Some of them are suitable for recreational vehicles up to 25 feet in length. The campground is complete with barbecue grills, covered tables, drinking water (much of the year), and fire rings.

The area is set up for camping and daytime picnics. Visitors can use the tables, grills and restrooms located near the Fossil House.

The park has an extensive signage system so visitors can learn all about the history of the mines, the booming city of Berlin, and the ichthyosaurs.

  • Opening time: Always open
  • Daily entrance fees: $5.00 per vehicle (non-VN vehicles $10.00 per vehicle)
  • Camping: $15.00 per vehicle, per night (non-NV vehicles: $20.00 per vehicle, per night)


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