by Taylor Lasseigne and Angela Driscoll / June 23, 2008 /
The Ford Focus wagon took a beating on the dirt roads of Utah and the mountain climbs in Wyoming. As we reached Jackson Hole, strange things started to happen under the hood – clanking, smoke, etc. Being that is was a Sunday in a town with more outfitters than mechanics, we thought it wise to start the trek home.
I-70 crosses some 420+ monotonous flat miles of Kansas, and to break that monotony, we pulled off the road at Oakly, KS to tour the Fick Fossil Museum. We were so happy get out of the car that any roadside attraction would have been fulfilling, but the Fick Fossil Museum was actually really entertaining. Discoveroakley.com does a great job of explaining the existance of this collection:
People don’t generally associate Kansas with the ocean but Kansas was a very different place 80 million years ago than it is today! Around 70 to 90 million years ago, an inland sea stretched from the Artic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico and Kansas was under water. By 1964, however, this vast ocean was long gone. It was then that Oakley-area residents Ernest and Vi Fick started to seriously collect the fossils left by the ancient sea creatures that inhabited this prehistoric sea. In 1971, they had collected thousands of shark teeth and complete fossils. Vi Fick incorporated many of those fossil findings into a very unique collection of artwork. Soon, their collection had outgrown their home.
The Fick Fossil and History Museum, which was established to showcase the Ficks family’s findings and artwork, allows you to walk through the history of Logan County. Visitors start in the Prehistoric era, amid sharks teeth and fossils and end walking the through replicas of the early boardwalks of Oakley during the Dust storms of the 1930’s.
Most of the fossils in the museum were found within the vicinity of the Fick’s homestead near Oakley. Vi combined fossils and shells with oil painting to create one-of-a-kind artwork. These folk-art paintings are prominently featured in the museum. The museum houses replicas of Oakley’s first Depot, a sod house, Prather’s Creamery, and Oakley’s General Store. The museum also houses a large, impressive collection of rocks and minerals from the Oakley area and around the world including the remains of ancient tombs! Among its more than 11,000 sharks teeth and many fossils there is the world’s oldest known mosasaur fossil, a 15 foot Xiphactinus Audax prepared by well-known fossil-hunter George Sternberg, and other rare fossils.
Xiphactinus was one of the largest bony fish of the Late Cretaceous and is considered one of the fiercest creatures in the sea. A powerful tail and winglike pectoral fins shot the 17-foot-long (5-meter-long) monster through the surface waters of the ocean. Unlucky fish and unsuspecting seabirds were snared inside Xiphactinus’s upturned jaw, which was lined with giant, fanglike teeth, giving it an expression akin to that of a bulldog.
A 13-foot-long (4-meter-long) Xiphactinus could open its jaw wide enough to swallow six-foot-long (two-meter-long) fish whole, but it itself was occasionally prey to the shark Cretoxyrhina. Xiphactinus trolled an ancient ocean called the Western Interior Seaway, which covered much of central North America during the Cretaceous. Though long extinct, if alive today the bony fish would look like a giant, fanged tarpon.