This formation dates to the late Carnian age of the late Triassic period when present-day Nevada and parts of the west were covered by an ancient ocean.
The first researcher to recognize the Nevada fossil specimens as ichthyosaurs was Siemon W. Muller of Stanford University.
Muller had the work of Sir Richard Owen to build upon from Owen's 1840 publications. That being said, there are very few contenders for a species that boasts vertebrae over a foot wide and weighing in at almost 10 kg or 21 lbs.
Muller contacted the University of California Museum of Paleontology at Berkeley. Surface collecting by locals continued at the site but no major excavation was planned.
Almost a quarter of a century after Muller's initial correspondence to the UCMP, Dr. Charles L. Camp received correspondence further detailing the finds from a lovely Mrs. Margaret Wheat of Fallon. She wrote to Camp in September of 1928 to say that she'd been giving the quarry section a bit of a sweep, as you do, and had uncovered a nice aligned section of vertebrae with her broom. The following year, Dr. Charles L. Camp went out to survey the finds and began working on the specimens, his first field season of many, in 1954.
Back in the 1950s, these large marine reptiles were rumoured to be "marine monsters," as the concept of an ichthyosaur was not well understood by the local townsfolk. Excitement soon hit West Union Canyon as the quarry began to reveal the sheer size of these mighty beasts. In the end, the ichthyosaur bones were left in situ to better understand how they were laid down over 200 million years ago.
Camp continued to work with Wheat at the site and brought on Sam Welles to help with excavations. The team understood the need for protection at the site. They canvassed the Nevada Legislature to establish the Ichthyosaur Paleontological State Monument. You can one of the Park Rangers above giving a tour within the lovely building they built on the site to protect the fossils.
In 1957, the site was incorporated into the State Park System and Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park was born. The park Twenty years later, in 1977, the population of Nevada weighed in and the Legislature designated Shonisaurus popularis as the State Fossil of Nevada.
Know Before You Go — Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park
This is a wonderful place to explore for a very reasonable sum of $5.00 US. Open year-round (though check regarding accessibility during Covid). They have accessible outcrops just outside the park boundary where you can collect ammonoid fossils.
Contact information: Tel: 775-964-2440 / Email: email@example.com.
Address: State Route 844, Austin, NV 89310, United States. Area: 4.58 km². Elevation: 6,975 ft (2,126 m); Tel: +1 775-964-2440; http://parks.nv.gov/parks/berlin-ichthyosaur