Hands-on activities at Fossil Discovery Center

The Fossil Discovery Center of Madera County in Chowchilla will celebrate National Fossil Day on Saturday, Oct. 18 with numerous hands-on activities and exhibits meant to engage children and their parents.

National Fossil Day was created five years ago by the National Park Service and the American Geosciences Institute to promote public awareness and stewardship of fossils, as well as to foster a greater appreciation of their scientific and educational value.

A wide variety of activities offered by the Fossil Discovery Center are designed to do just that including:

* Tours of the museum and new exhibits* Animals from the Fresno Chaffee Zoo (11 a.m. - 1 p.m.)* Free mock dig for children* Real fossil screen-washing* Native American bead-making for children* Free popcorn

“Besides our usual amazing exhibits of Columbian mammoths, giant sloths and Saber-tooth cats, we have tons of fun and hands-on activities for kids,” said Blake Bufford, director of the museum.

“We have an exhibit called ‘Microfossils.” Look through a magnifier to see tiny bones and teeth of small prehistoric animals.

Another popular activity returns: the atlatl throw. Bigger kids and their parents have the chance to see how this prehistoric weapon worked and even see how they’d fare during the Pleistocene themselves.

Paleontologists will be on hand operating a “wet screening” machine searching for the newest finds from the fossil bed adjacent to the museum.

The Fossil Discovery Center showcases the fossilized remains of numerous animals, including the California State Fossil, Smilodon Fatalis, more commonly known as the Saber-Tooth Cat. Other animals include the massive Colombian Mammoth, the Short-Faced Bear and the Dire Wolf. All fossils displayed were found adjacent to where the museum sits, making the area the largest Pleistocene-era fossil bed in the western United States.

National Fossil Day activities run from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m., and the cost of admission is $8 for adults, $4 for students, and seniors over 55 are $6. The mock dig, normally $4, is free.

The Fossil Discovery Center is located at 19450 Avenue 21-1/2 in Chowchilla. Take exit 164 west from Highway 99.

Details: (559) 665-7107,