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More WataugaLakeMagazine articles:

The Butler Museum

Learn how and why Watauga Lake was formed and how the citizens of "Old Butler" Tennessee were changed forever. . . .

A Kayaker's View

See Watauga Lake up-close from a Kayak

Watauga Lake Triathlon

Swim over 1,000 yards in a deep lake, race in your bike over 21 miles through the mountains, THEN... run 5 miles ...

Appalachian

The Appalachian Trail skirts Watauga Lake and crosses it at the Dam ...

Blue Hole Falls

Just a short drive from the lake, near Elizabethton, Blue Hole Falls is a beautiful set of waterfalls ...

Pioneer Landing

Learn more about the easternmost marina on Watauga Lake ...

Watauga Dam

The dam that creates Watauga Lake ...

Jonesborough TN

Home of the International Storytelling Festival ...

Iron Mountain Inn

See this beautiful lodge with breathtaking views ...

Rat Branch Boat Ramp

This is the westernmost boat ramp on the lake ...

Watauga Point

This beautiful park is great for picnics, boating and swimming ...

The Carter Mansion

Where Tennessee history started. Learn about the Carter family ...

Doe River Gorge

See the beautiful gorge and ride the rails where the Tweetsie Train traveled ...

Gray Fossil Site

A spectacular fossil site discovered not long ago ...

Colonel Roderick Butler

Learn about the man for whom the town of Butler was named ...

Sugar Hollow Retreat

See this spectacular mountain retreat ...

Fish Springs Marina

This beautifully situated marina offers many services to lake boaters ...

The Gray Fossil Site &and Museum in Gray Tennessee near Watauga Lake Tennessee

Gray Tennessee Fossil Site & Museum

Click here to learn more about the Dinosaurs exhibit at the museum in Spring 2013

All photos and illustrations by Pat Johns ©2008 - present
All Rights Reserved
See links to article references at the end of the article.

January, 2008

"Tennessee's Gray Fossil Site is a 4.5 to 7 million-year-old lake bed formed in a sinkhole. Because the lake would have been a magnet for life, recovered fossils include everything from fish, frogs, and salamanders, to short-faced bears, saber-toothed cats, and rhinos. The site even contains a strange, shovel-tusked elephant whose intruding lower jaw held flat, bladelike lower tusks used for stripping the bark of trees and tearing up vegetation"
    ~ Dr. Steven Wallace, Director of the Don Sundquist Center of Excellence in Paleontology, from an article in Now & Then, The Appalachian Magazine (see link at the end of the article)

The Gray Fossil Site and Museum in Gray Tennessee near Watauga Lake Tennessee

The Gray Fossil Site was discovered in 2000 when Tennessee Department of Transportation workers were widening state route 75 along a 1-mile stretch. In May of that year, workers dug up black clay deposits which drew concerns about the stability of the soil for the road project. DOT geologists were brought in and further digging unearthed bone fragments.

In June, further exploration yielded animal skulls (including an alligator) , ribs, legs and backbones. The DOT stopped work at the end of June. Tennessee Governor Don Sundquist visited the site with state geologists, DOT representatives and members of the ETSU Environmental department.

The discovery of a rhino led them to the conclusion that the fossils were of the Miocene Epoch (4.5+ million years old.) The Gray Fossil Site and Museum in Gray Tennessee near Watauga Lake Tennessee

The Gray Fossil Site and Museum in Gray Tennessee near Watauga Lake Tennessee

Eventually, the road was realigned and Dr. Steven Wallace was hired to oversee the excavation of the site. Before leaving office, Gov. Sundquist presented ETSU with an $8 million grant to build and visitor museum/research facility.

The Museum is called the ETSU and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum and Visitor Center at the Gray Fossil Site. General Shale Brick, Inc. is headquartered in Johnson City and is the largest manufacturer of bricks in the U.S. They donated the over 200,000 bricks for the museum. The Gray Fossil Site and Museum in Gray Tennessee near Watauga Lake Tennessee

The Gray Fossil Site and Museum in Gray Tennessee near Watauga Lake Tennessee

In addition, General Shale also provide the bricks for "The Watering Hole", a 175-square foot brick structure at the museum entrance which was carved by masonry sculptor Johnny Hagerman, the staff sculptor for General Shale Brick (see link to more information below.) According to a recent interview with him by KnoxNews (see link below):

"His work was good enough in the late 1980s for the Opryland Hotel (now Gaylord Opryland). Hagerman created two outdoor panels, roughly 12 feet by 16 feet, for the resort hotel. One depicts the country music heritage of the Grand Ole Opry with images of Minnie Pearl and Roy Acuff. The other panel offers relief images of Andrew Jackson, a riverboat and the Nashville skyline."
The Gray Fossil Site and Museum in Gray Tennessee near Watauga Lake Tennessee
The Gray Fossil Site and Museum in Gray Tennessee near Watauga Lake Tennessee

The site is approximately 5 acres and core samples of rich fossil deposits have been made up to 140 feet. The knowledgeable tour guides (who also work at the site and its research facilities) will tell you that less than 1% of the site has been excavated and they anticipate another 200 years of work!

The museum opened in August of 2007. It is a 33,000 square foot building and one of the few museums actually located on a fossil site. The excavation teams had to work early on to dig through the soil excavated for the museum building. In fact that is where they discovered the "new" species, a Red Panda, one of 2 new species discovered at the site in its brief history of excavation.The Gray Fossil Site and Museum in Gray Tennessee near Watauga Lake Tennessee

The Gray Fossil Site and Museum in Gray Tennessee near Watauga Lake Tennessee

Just inside the front door, the museum has a small but interesting gift shop with related books, toys and clothing. You can purchase a copy of ETSU's Now and Then: The Appalachian Magazine, an interesting magazine published 3 times each year since 1984 by the Center for Appalachian Studies.

The Gray Fossil Site and Museum make a wonderful outing for visitors of any age or background. It is located on state route 75, 2 miles from the Interstate-26 Gray Exit 13. It is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The last guided tour starts at 4:00 p.m. The Gray Fossil Site and Museum in Gray Tennessee near Watauga Lake Tennessee

A tour group and the lobby at the Gray Fossil Site Museum:

The Gray Fossil Site and Museum in Gray Tennessee near Watauga Lake Tennessee The Gray Fossil Site and Museum in Gray Tennessee near Watauga Lake Tennessee

The entrance and the back of the museum:

The Gray Fossil Site and Museum in Gray Tennessee near Watauga Lake Tennessee The Gray Fossil Site and Museum in Gray Tennessee near Watauga Lake Tennessee

The Fossil Site and a museum exhibit:

The Gray Fossil Site and Museum in Gray Tennessee near Watauga Lake Tennessee The Gray Fossil Site and Museum in Gray Tennessee near Watauga Lake Tennessee

The museum movie and an outside visitor:

The Gray Fossil Site and Museum in Gray Tennessee near Watauga Lake Tennessee The Gray Fossil Site and Museum in Gray Tennessee near Watauga Lake Tennessee

The Gray Fossil Site and Museum in Gray Tennessee near Watauga Lake Tennessee

Directions to The Gray Fossil Site from Watauga Lake:

Take Hwy. 321 to the I-26 Exit in Johnson City. Exit at Gray Exit 13. Turn left (west). The museum is approximately 2 miles ahead on the left.

Links to references in this article and to sites related to Shady Valley Tennessee: