Hiking Team: Rosie Miller, Dave Miller
Hiking Date: November 5, 2016
This place is similar to the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles that I visited in 1991 when I went out to run in the Los Angeles Marathon.
HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE: In October 1803, while traveling down the Ohio River to meet William Clark for an expedition to the Pacific, Meriwether Lewis visited Big Bone Lick. He was to gather fossilized bones for President Thomas Jefferson. In September 1807, Clark supervised a three week dig for bones at President Jefferson’s request (over 300 bones and teeth were sent to him). Scientists consider William Clark’s dig at Big Bone Lick in 1807 as the birthplace of American vertebrate paleontology. Found here by Clark were prehistoric native American artifacts and bone from the mastodon, wooly mammoth and giant sloth. Big Bone Lick became the talk of the scientific world.
FINDINGS: The ice age mega-mammals listed above including herds of bison visited these bogs satisfying their natural taste for salt and minerals. The tremendous weight of these creatures made them vulnerable to sink in the unstable marshy ground surrounding the springs. Thousands were swallowed up, the salty ooze sealed their remains from air and preserved their bones. As climate warmed and the bogs dried up, bones were discovered. American and foreign museums have acquired tens of thousands of bones from this park.
Rosie and I hiked the park, observing that many of the springs and marches consist of brine: water mixed with salt (the smell reminded me of the sulfur pits at Yellowstone Park). In the 1800’s, Big Bone Lick was used for salt manufacturing (it took 500 to 1,000 gallons of brine to collect one bushel of salt) and was a fashionable tourist attraction for the southern wealthy as they bathed in the sulfur-salt spring water for medicinal purposes.
The park had a nice display showing sloth and wooly mammoths in a fake bog. However, the real gem of the park was a herd of American Bison, the largest land mammal in North America, re-introduced into the park a few years ago. Wild bison had last been seen in Kentucky in the early 1800’s