• Florida's Adventure Coast

Peace River

People crouched down in a river bed, panning for treasures, swoosh, swoosh, baskets shaking….but not for gold.  It’s way better.  They are looking for fossils, and a glimpse into Florida’s prehistoric past.

Looking for “off the beaten path” family fun? Try a kayak ride on Florida’s Peace River while panning for treasures. Perfect for the kids and grand kids with an easy, scenic kayak ride.

Millions of years ago Florida was covered by water. Over time, the ocean rose and fell – leaving fossils entombed, often intact, in Florida’s sediment. Fossilized bones and teeth were partly buried in river beds, giving Florida a well earned reputation as one of the richest areas for paleontology. Sharks, mammoths, mastodons, dugongs (similar to a manatee), horses, whales, armadillos – both ocean and land dwelling creatures – can be found for those who wish to grab a shovel and shake basket.

The scenic Peace River meanders through four counties emptying into the Charlotte Harbor estuary. But for fossil hunting, one doesn’t have to travel far.

When I embark on new adventures, I go with a friend or someone who knows the territory. Meet Mark Renz of Fossil Expeditions, a twenty-year veteran, author and Florida native. Mark, and his dog, Darwin will tickle your funny bone and make any day better than most. Our group was comprised of three families with children. Mark brings the kayaks, the shake baskets, digging shovels, paddles and safety gear. We packed lunches, drinks, sunscreen, water shoes and hats.

Meeting in Arcadia, we followed Mark to the Brownville Park (Desoto County), a good launch spot for a casual kayak ride to prized fossil sites.

Paddling down the river – with the slow moving current, authentic Florida was everywhere – cypress trees, cabbage palms, scrub oaks draped with Spanish moss and lovely long-leafed sunflowers. Keep your eyes open for red shouldered hawks, turtles, otters and barred owls.  Mark assured us no worries about gators.

Kayaking a half-mile downstream, we tied the kayaks to the river bank and found a wading spot knee to waist deep, and in some areas, sat in the water. We donned our shake baskets and shovels and the treasure hunt began. Some of us shoveled while the other shook the basket, letting the current gently uncover the treasures.

The objective is to dig deep with your shovel, stay in one spot (if yielding good results) and stay on task. Hours passed and no one seemed to notice. Mark is very attentive, and can identify even the most obscure fossils – keeping you engaged. Like anything – when someone makes a “find”, everyone is inspired and back with a passion – continuing the excavation.

The fossil finds were very exciting. Everyone found sharks teeth, even one large megladon tooth was found – but the prize of the day was a mammoth tooth. A thrill for everyone. We all went home with our fossil loot and the memory of a great day on the Peace River.

If you want to go on your own, try the Canoe Outpost on the Peace River. They have equipment and knowledgeable staff to help you.  Weekdays are, of course, the best days.

Oh, and by the way…. don’t tell the kids that they may learn something.  It will be our secret!

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