Mineral Wells Fossil Park

Mineral Wells Fossil Park will capture young paleontologists’ imaginations. Fossil hunters can search for treasures, and the best part, you can keep whatever you find. Located just 80 miles west of Dallas, Mineral Wells Fossil Park opened to the public in 2010.

Park history. The Dallas Paleontological Society, City of Mineral Wells and Mineral Wells Chamber of Commerce partnered to create the park at the site of the city’s old borrow pit. Years ago, the town used earth dug from the area, the borrow pit, for dirt fill at the city dump. The pit was then closed in the 1990s and forgotten. Twenty years of rain and wind eroded the borrow pit’s sides exposing mineralized fossils in among shale and dirt.

No dinosaurs here. The best fossil hunting follows strong rains. The rain washes away dirt exposing the fossils on the ridges and in the troughs of furrows throughout the North Texas Ramblings Mineral Wells Fossil Parkborrow pit. Readily visible, the fossils are intermixed with small rocks. You aren’t likely to find a dinosaur here. The fossils are small, mostly crinoids (sea lily) fragments. While small, the crinoids and shells are everywhere you search. In just a few hours, our family had two sandwich bags filled with small fossils ranging in size from a pea to half dollar.

The fossils are about 300 million years old. During the Pennsylvania Period, ancient sea lilies, urchins, clams, oysters, sea snails and sharks lived where prickly pear cactus thrive today. One such sea basin submerged the area around Mineral Wells. When the creatures died, their bodies fell to the sea floor. Minerals replaced the animals’ cellular material leaving behind a rock record for us to find millions of years later.

Fast forward from the ancient sea to the City of Mineral Wells old borrow pit. Sea creature fossils are so plentiful at Mineral Wells Fossil Park, that visitors for decades will be able to explore the past and collect ancient fragments of species long extinct. A large exhibit sign at the park entrance illustrates with photographs and descriptions the types of fossils commonly found at the site.

Fossil hunting guidelines. Mineral Wells Fossil Park has a few rules in place to ensure the park’s continued success. While you may keep whatever fossils you find, they must be for your personal use. No commercial fossil hunting is allowed. Park rules forbid power tools and limit guests to hand-held tools like a garden trowel. After a good rain, the hand shovels aren’t even necessary.

When you go. There is no shade at the park – hat, sunscreen and lots of water are a must on hot days.  Wear old clothes for digging in the dirt and boots are a good idea if it’s recently rained. Additionally, bring plenty of small baggies for storing your fossils. As in other parts of Texas, be alert for stinging insects and snakes. Called a primitive park, Mineral Wells Fossil Park has no running water or flush toilets, though there is a portable toilet in the parking lot. For those wanting a more scenic location for a picnic, visit Lake Mineral Wells State Park (Park Road 71, Mineral Wells), located just east of Mineral Wells.

Mineral Wells Fossil Park (2375 Indian Creek Road, Mineral Wells) is open Friday – Monday from 8 a.m. to dusk. Park entrance is free.

Plano Balloon Festival

The 35th Annual Plano Balloon Festival begins Friday evening September 19 and runs through Sunday, September 21. Bands, bounce houses, climbing wall, food North Texas Ramblings Plano Balloon Festivalconcessions and exhibitors’ booths are all part of the fun, but the highlight is the balloons. The event features balloon races, balloon glows (Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.), and balloon tethered rides.

Lift off. If you’ve never been, I urge you to go to a balloon launch. There are five launches scheduled during the Plano Balloon Festival. Evening balloon launches are at 6 pm Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

But my favorite balloon launches are in the morning. You can catch these on either Saturday or Sunday at 7 am. Our family likes to bring a picnic breakfast, lawn chairs, and a sense of wonder as the hot air balloons take to the skies at sunrise. It’s an incredible sight.

Viewing tips. While it’s a little more costly, I recommend the Collin County Community College Spring Creek Campus prime parking. The cost is $10 but it gets you near the hill that affords the best viewing. There is an additional fee for festival entrance. Concessions are available for sale at the festival. Also, don’t forget to bring chairs or picnic blanket.

Balloon Run. If you are a runner, Plano Balloon Festival sponsors a half marathon, 5k, and family-friendly 1k race on Sunday, September 21. The races start just after the morning balloon launch. Race participants receive balloon festival tickets as well as t-shirts. Advance registration is required

Details. The Plano Balloon Festival is held at Oak Point Park (2801 E Spring Creek, Plano). For more information check out the Festival’s web site at planoballoonfest.org

Money Factory

What would it be like to work surrounded by almost a billion dollars? I found out with a trip to the Money Factory. Located in Fort Worth, the Money Factory (also known as the North Texas Ramblings Money FactoryBureau of Engraving and Printing or BEP) conducts free tours of its facility, one of only two locations that print U.S. currency.

The buck starts here! Imagine printing presses churning out sheets of hundred dollar bills. Or pallets stacked with money bricks, 400 notes to a brick. On any given business day, the Fort Worth BEP produces 36 million notes valued at $526 million.

The tour is conducted from a glassed-in, elevated walkway above the factory floor. Visitors see all three types of printing processes used to make money.

  • The intaglio printing pushes ink into the sheet giving money its three dimensional, textural feel.
  • The off-set press gives higher denomination bills their color.
  • The letter-press printing process serializes the notes.

Between each printing step, currency sheets dry in controlled areas on pallets.

Laundering money. Guides provide fun facts throughout the Money Factory tour. I learned that paper currency is actually a misnomer. U.S. notes are printed on specially designed sheets made of cotton and linen fibers. The fiber blend prevents money from falling apart in a washing machine or tearing when it’s folded too many times. To meet BEP quality assurance standards, currency must be able to withstand six washing machine encounters!

What you won’t see. The Money Factory has just one customer, the Federal Reserve Bank. Security restrictions prevent BEP visitors from viewing the 19,000-square- foot Federal Reserve vault that stores the finished currency prior to its shipment to one of the 12 Federal Reserve banks.

Learn about BEP. A self-guided walk through the visitor center is almost as much fun as the factory tour. Interactive exhibits and displays provide detailed information on all the engraving and printing processes involved in currency production. My favorite exhibit told the story of the Mutilated Currency Division. They refund damaged money, like currency damaged by fire or flood. The most outlandish example of the division’s work involved a man and his money eating cow. The man killed the cash consuming cow and sent the damaged currency (still in the bovine’s stomach) to the Mutilated Currency Division. And yes, he did get his money refunded.

Early counterfeiters. I also learned about the history of money and counterfeiting. Cacao beans were used as currency by the Aztecs. Some would counterfeit the cacao bean by removing its meaty center and replacing it with mud. Today’s counterfeiters are more sophisticated and BEP uses a variety of measures to foil attempts to counterfeit currency including the use of color shifting ink, security strips and more.

The 10 cent note. Surprisingly, the United States didn’t use paper currency until the Civil War. In 1861, the Treasury printed fractional currency in denominations of 3, 5, 10, 25 and 50 cents to offset coin hoarding. Today, BEP produces $1, $2, $5, $10, $50 and $100 notes. The largest denomination printed was the $100,000 note used only between banks prior to the advent of electronic fund transfers.

When you go. The Money Factory in Fort Worth is located at 9000 Blue Mound Road. Public tours are Tuesday through Friday (except federal holidays) from 8:30 a.m.to 4:30 p.m. All visitors must pass through security. BEP advises people to allow up to a half hour for the security check during its busiest times (spring and summer break). Cell phones, cameras, backpacks and any sort of weapon including pocket knives are strictly forbidden. For more information call the visitor center at (817) 231-4000.