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Devonian Fossil Gorge - Iowa City's Prehistoric Must-See
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Devonian Fossil Gorge - Iowa City's Prehistoric Must-See

A visit to the Devonian Fossil Gorge near Coralville Lake in Iowa City is a must.  The Gorge is a recently revealed insight into a fascinating prehistoric world that for millenniums had lain unseen beneath Iowan residents’ feet!

History of the Gorge

The wonders of the Gorge lay undiscovered until 1993 when exceptional rainfall caused the Coralville Lake to exceed its maximum capacity and invade the emergency spillway.  So severe was the flooding that the overflow lasted for almost a month.  The raging torrent took with it a campground, a road, and almost 17 feet of rock and subsoil.  When the waters finally receded, astonished residents saw the exposed bedrock that had been revealed and the Devonian Fossil Gorge was born.

In 2008 the lake overflowed again and floodwater engulfed the Gorge widening it significantly, and revealing even more fossils including corals and brachiopods.

Three hundred and seventy-five million years ago, some 200 million years before the dinosaurs appeared, Iowa was actually situated to the south of the equator.  The area was covered by a tropical shallow sea.  The Devonian Gorge is the old seafloor and the fossils are all that remains of sea creatures and plants that lived in the warm marine environment.

What to see and do

There’s a Visitor Center (telephone 319-338-3543 for further information) at the east end of the Coralville Lake Dam where you can learn all about the geology of Iowa and its rich history.  Take a trip to Iowa Hall which is found in the Iowa Museum of Natural History, MacBride Hall, downtown Iowa City.


To reach the Devonian Fossil Gorge head north out of Iowa City on North Dubuque Street; turn right on West Overlook Road and follow your nose until you reach the west end of the Coralville Dam.  Turn right down the hill and park at the bottom of the spillway on the paved area.

The Gorge can get very hot during the summer months and the best time to visit is during the spring and fall when the light is also at its best. 

The Gorge is managed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers and more information about how the Fossil Gorge is managed can be found at their website.


Image sourceFlickr Creative Commons


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