A vintage truck rusts away in Berlin, Nev.
They swam deep in the warmwater sea that covered Nevada 225 million years ago: wily reptiles with eyes as big as dinner plates and bodies up to 50 feet long. The creatures—ichthyosaurs—inhabited murky depths, preying on giant squid and other marine life.
"They died and settled to the bottom," says Jeff Morris, the supervisor of Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, 140 miles southeast of Reno.
"Thirty million years ago, the mountain-building process lifted the seafloor to 7,000 feet."
That's how the ancient predators' bones came to be found in this area. And how valuable ores rose to within reach of the gold-hungry miners who built Berlin, now an enchanting, weather-ravaged ghost town. Dozens of interpretive signs tell the story of Berlin's 1897 boom. But it's the rockbound reptile—one of the biggest fossil ichthyosaurs ever discovered—that wins the most oohs and aahs.
Both the town and the fossils, protected in a large shelter, can be viewed on self-guided visits at any time. A tour of the Diana Mine that accesses its tunnels—where tools and carts and perhaps even some gold remain—runs May through September. (775) 964-2440, parks.nv.gov/parks/bi.
Photography by Rachid Dahnoun/Aurora Open/Corbis
This article was first published in March 2013. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.