On a sunny Sunday afternoon Andrew and I drove to Ladonia, Texas to look for fossils. They’d been waiting for discovery some eighty million years, so we were in no particular hurry to arrive. Small towns with quaint names peppered the map along the path we traveled – White Shed, Honey Grove, Allens Chapel, Pecan Gap, Wolfe City, Birthright, Ben Franklin, and Flat Prairie. I ignored the blacktop road beneath our tires and focused on the fields flashing past. I imagined we were retracing the route of an Old West stagecoach.
We turned off Highway 34 and into the gravel parking lot at the entrance to the park. There were no facilities – no restrooms, no ranger station, and most important – no ticket booth and no admission charge.
To reach the riverbed we clambered down a steep concrete staircase, more suited to goats than late-middle-aged women.
“I can hold your hand,” Andrew offered.
“I’m afraid I’d just pull you down with me, and we’d tumble off together,” I said.
Erosion had carried away the bottom portion of the staircase. We were able to sidle along the side of the embankment and reach the riverbed. The buzz of passing cars and trucks sounded beside us, on the bridge spanning the river. Once we reached the bottom the noise filtered away.
We brought a garden trowel and a plastic grocery bag to carry away any treasure we unearthed. Visitors are allowed to collect anything they find along the banks or in the riverbed. While Andrew sifted through the loose shale that lined the bank, I strolled along beside the shallow water.
The clear water carried the boiled-egg stink of sulphur, so I resisted the urge to wade in the river. We found fossilized oyster shells and imprints of pre-historic plants, immortalized in the soft, grey rock. The shale crumbled, like cake too soon from the oven.
“We’ll have to come back, and bring more tools,” Andrew said.
I imagined the trek down those stairs, while weighted with shovels, trowels, buckets and brushes. “Maybe,” I said.
Right before we left, a group of people – three adults and a dizzying clutch of children – stopped to chat. One of the men told us he’d heard the park would soon be closed. “They’re going to open the dam upriver,” he said, “and this place will be underwater.”
Pausing at the top of the staircase, I gazed back the way I’d climbed and imagined, instead of the thin stream of water below, a vast spread of sea.