Chuckanut Drive is much younger than other parts of Washington. The fossils found there lived and died some 40-55 million years ago, very close to where they are now, but in a much warmer, swampy setting. The exposures of the Chuckanut Formation were once part of a vast river delta. Imagine, if you will, the bayou country of the Lower Mississippi. The siltstones, sandstones, mudstones and conglomerates of the Chuckanut Formation were laid down about 40-54 million years ago during the Eocene epoch, a time of luxuriant plant growth in the subtropical flood plain that covered much of the Pacific Northwest.
This ancient wetland provided ideal conditions to preserve the many trees, shrubs & plants that thrived here. Plants are important in the fossil record because they are more abundant and can give us a lot of information about climate, temperature, the water cycle and humidity of the region. The Chuckanut flora is made up predominantly of plants whose modern relatives live in tropical areas such as Mexico and Central America. If you are interesting in viewing a tropical paradise in your own backyard, look no further than the Chuckanut. Images and tag lines: Glyptostrobus, the Chinese swamp cypress, is perhaps the most common plant found here. Also abundant are fossilized remains of the North American bald cypress, Taxodium; Metasequoia (dawn redwood), Lygodium (climbing fern), large Sabal (palm) and leaves from a variety of broad leaf angiosperm plants such as (witch hazel), Laurus (laurel), Ficus (fig) and Platanus (sycamore), and several other forms.
While less abundant, evidence of the animals that called this ancient swamp home are also found here. Rare bird, reptile, and mammal tracks have been immortalized in the outcrops of the Chuckanut Formation including tracks of Diatryma, a massive flightless bird that reached up to 9 feet in height and made a living in the grasslands and swamps of the Eocene.
Tracks of a type of archaic mammal of the Orders Pantodonta or Dinocerata (blunt foot herbivores), footprints from a small shorebird, and tracks from an early equid or webbed bird track give evidence to the vertebrates that inhabited the swamps, lakes and river ways of the Pacific Northwest 50 million years ago.