About six months ago, we began planning what seemed at the time an unlikely vacation. It was to begin the very night of my son Zachary’s high school graduation. The plan? We would hop in the van, drive to New Bern, NC to a hotel, and on Saturday, we would attend the Aurora Fossil Festival. None of us really knew anything about this place except that they HAD a museum, there were giant Megaladon jaws you could get your picture taken in, and there was a pile of dirt – somewhere – you could dig through and find your own fossils.
None of us (at that particular time) was obsessed with fossils. We wanted a break, a getaway, and something different. We found all of that and more.
The trip up was an adventure in itself, as there are a lot of new bypasses and roads in place that were NOT in place when our Tom Tom was last updated. Several times in the middle of long stretches of bridge it suggested we go 80 yards and turn left. We declined. Also, there was a tiny place named Chocowinity along the way…but it passed so quickly I thought maybe I’d hallucinated it. It turns out it’s from a Native American word for “Fish From Many Waters,” but that’s for another story.
We spent a good first night in the Holiday In Express, rose early, ate our continental breakfast, and piled into the van. Along the way we passed interestingly named places, and as we pulled into town, we cut in around to the left and ended up parking two spaces off the main street. Quite by accident.
After hitting the one ATM machine in town, we started back across a big field into the festival. Before we really got in, we were handed a sheet to identify fossils, and a very friendly girl told us that the secret was that the gravel and dirt in the parking lot was fresher than what had been dumped for the festival. She showed us a very nice prehistoric Great White shark’s tooth she’d found. We went back to the parking lot.
We gathered four or five baggies of fossils, and the pride of the lot was Katie’s Great White tooth, about twice the size of a quarter. When we’d finished in the parking lot, we crossed into the field and dug with the rest of the festival guests in a big pile of “reject” from the Phosphate mine, which is the source of all the fossils.
While there we saw some odd species of duck, played with a corn snake, had funnel cake, bought fossils – and hats – and other things – and attended an amazing lecture on how the biggest specimen ever pulled from the mine was preserved, cleaned, and displayed. It’s the skeleton of a juvenile whale, and the care and ingenuity involved in that project was well worth the our we sat listening to the lecture and learning. After that we went out and saw the skeleton itself, as well as the rest of the museum, and took the obligatory photos of people in giant jaws. We also bought raffle tickets for the giant Megaladon tooth, over 6″ – did not win – and enjoyed the parade, including a passably good Jack Sparrow impersonator. Below are some more pictures from the trip.