The main diggings
Exploring the Christopher Creek Uranium Mine Quarry Payson Area

Permian Supai / Pennsylvanian Naco Formations

Uploaded 12/10/16
Fossil leaf

The old abandoned Uranium Mine in Christopher Creek is located halfway from Payson to Kohls Ranch, across from the old R-bar-C boy scout camp along highway 260. The old dirt road - If thats what you want to call it - is in very bad shape, and now strewn with gigantic boulders to keep normal vehicles out. In the old quarry, the upper Pennsylvanian and lower Permian strata is exposed in the diggings, and layers of coal contain some nice plant fossils preserved as carbon films. There are also some pyritized clams, spirorbis annelid cases, very rare insect wings, lots of fossil seeds, shark coprolites (fossil poo), and one small horshoe crab (Eurproops) was found by my friend Rik there a long time ago.

The Naco also occurs on the road in to the quarry and contains marine fossils such as brachs, bryozoans, mollusks, and yes - tiny sharks teeth. We visited both locations in November, and here is our fossil adventure!

 Driving off the main highway seen in the background here, is an area loaded with Naco marine limestone. Most fossils are ground up and not too well preserved, however there are eroded out loose fossils everywhere.

Dawn collects tons of brachs (Composita) and Bryozoans (Fenestellid and branching) in the road in, next to the pond and under the power lines. Fossils are often preserved as calcified casts and molds in both the slabs and loose in the soil.

Next to the pond, we find slabs of limestone loaded with crinoid material. Occasional sharks teeth about a quarter of an inch long are found here as well. They are original bone material, and pass the "lick and stick" test...

Close up of slab made of crinoid parts.

Detailed close up showing millions of crinoid calyx parts, including an occasional shark tooth or fish scale.

After a harrowing drive in along a mile long really challenging road, we arrived. We parked in a flat area next to the quarry and began our search.

Heading toward the quarry, looking back, you can see that all the huge piles of radioactive sand stone are now gone! The area is smoothed out so they are most likely buried there underground. This used to be a nice source of carbonized wood casts and limbs. I did take a Geiger counter to the pile one time, and found little to be concerned about. Apparently this is what they were mining.

The main quarry area. At the top of the photo is the Mogollon Rim way in the background, Milk Ranch point. The upper wall of the quarry is Naco, and grades down into a redder terrestrial fresh water shale and sandstone. This particular facies only occurs in isolated outcrops on the Rim. It is NOT typical Schnebly Hill formation (Like Sedona). Although not physically connected to the Grand Canyon deposits, it is mot likely based on fossil content to be an outlier of the Supai Group. The white mound on the right is a lake deposit, with few fossils. The plant material comes from the left side here, the coaly shores of swamp land for this freshwater lake.

Hiking up through the layers inside the quarry, this is the one of the plant coaly shale layers which can produce nice specimens - IF the moisture content is high. Otherwise the fossils shatter when you try to split the dry shales.

The bottom of the quarry used to have a big pond in it years ago, but now is dry.

From inside the main quarry looking out.

Here, Ive marked the shale bed with the best plant material.

Starting the treacherous drive out!

Yes, this IS the road out. Giant horse sized boulders are now spread all over the road.

It was very tricky, but not impossible to four wheel out of this mess. We have taken our Jeep on some of the worst roads imaginable to get to fossil in Arizona. Only a few are as bad as this one!

Photos of the material collected at the Quarry and entrance road:

There is huge amounts of pyrite crystals and nodule found in the quarry. This is from the diagenesis of the organics (primarily ammonia) and forms the pyrite from the existing iron compounds in the original muds. The process forms FeS and we have found several different crystal types here.

Everything you see here is a thick chunk of coal. Most layers are less than 2 inches thick, and contain abundant limb casts as seen on s ome of the specimens here.

The shales above and below the coal beds are in places very fossiliferous. Most is ground up plant hash, but sometimes you will find complete leaves and reed impressions. Rarely fern fronds and lycopod leaves and seeds.

Shark coprolites. We have collected countless specimens from this site. It is unique to the bed found, and no other fossils are in that same facies. The spiral pattern is typical of xanthid sharks, a small 2 foot long freshwater fish which occupied the lake during this time. More details on this later...

Microscope photos.

This set of images are taken with my stereo microscope and a 5 MP Sony digital camera. The magnification here is mostly set for 10x. It will do fine images at 40x as well.

The base of a leaf is seen here, preserved as a carbon film.

External limb cast impression of a small tree like plant.

Cordiates leaves are very common here, they are originally long a strap like from a tall tree like a palm.

Typical plant hash

Another bark/limb cast, perhaps of a Cordiates tree.

Another probably Cordiates leaf

This is the most likely candidate for the shark coprolites. A small Xenacanthus in the freshwater next to the bog was responsible for the fossils we found. They would have eaten small fish and amphibians, and no doubt some turtle like animals are waiting to be found in the same layers.

Close up of the termination of the shark coprolite.

The spiral pattern seen in shark coprolites is due to the very unusual and unique construction of their internal gut. There is no other animal that makes such patterns.

Malachite copper ore found coating some of the plant remains. We have found in other nearby localities many more examples of this, including malachite and azurite coated Calemites limbs, and one diamond patterned lycopod bark piece covered in the green mineral. The prize find was an azurite limb cast from a horse tail reed cast.

Coal layer - surface appearance

Pyrite crystals - Cubic

Pyrite crystals - Octahedrons

Pyrite crystals - triangular faces

Close up at 20x of triangular faces.

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