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You won't find waterfalls or fossils at Fossil Falls | Bartell's Backroads

You will, however, be amazed by the Swiss cheese-shaped rocks!

COSO JUNCTION, Calif. — Just off Highway 395 in the southern end of Inyo County is a massive crack in the ground where the rocks look like Swiss cheese. The crack is called Fossil Falls.

For most of the year, the basin of the Coso Mountains is dry and arid, but if you take the Fossil Falls trail head in the spring, an assortment of wildflowers will guide you down a quarter-mile path and into a canyon of smooth basalt rock with people-sized holes through them.

The first thing you will notice about Fossil Falls is there are no fossils or waterfalls. Bureau of Land Management geologist Kevin Schrecengost says the story of Fossil Falls is one of fire and water.

The black rock is basalt from ancient lava flows and the holes are a result of water erosion.

“It used to be the location of a waterfall, so the fossil is the waterfall itself,” said Schrecengost.

The holes in the rocks were formed when water flowed over the lava, and sand particles started wearing down and making divots in the rocks that eventually grew.

“The water flow continues grinding its way down into the material,” said Schrecengost.

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The grinding also pitted and polished the canyon walls, making them smooth to the touch and providing lots of little hiding spaces for desert animals like birds and lizards. Throughout Fossil Falls you will find Native American petroglyphs and some date back thousands of years. If you do find them, don’t touch them; just look and take pictures.

Overlooking Fossil Falls is Red Hill, a pumice covered cinder cone which is reminiscent of the volcanic past. As you walk over the rocky terrain, it’s hard to believe thousands of years ago this area was a raging river with trees lining the banks. Fresh water was everywhere.

“It’s a great hiking spot. You can go down and see where the falls were located and you can walk down and see where the water cascaded down,” said Schrecengost.

Fossil Falls is free and it's right off the Highway 395, a perfect spot to stretch your legs or do some camping.

MORE GEOLOGICAL WONDERS ON THE BACKROADS: A challenging hike just outside Mammoth Lakes takes you to the edge of a volcanic blast.

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