Calvert Cliffs State Park
Captain John Smith thought these cliffs were amazing in 1608 but sharks thought so 20 million years before him.
The Chesapeake Bay and its shores were explored and charted by Captain John Smith in the early 17th century, and he originally named these cliffs for his Mom (aww…), calling them “Riccard’s Cliftes.”
Today, on the western side of the Chesapeake Bay as it cuts up through Maryland, these sandy-colored bluffs are now called Calvert Cliffs and are part of the system of Maryland’s state parks. Offering up a rare window on evidence of, among other prehistoric events, a “minor mass extinction” (but really - can a mass extinction event ever really be “minor”). It’s just one example of what can be seen from the shoreline down below, in addition to countless fossils of prehistoric species of sharks, whales, rays, and seabirds that were, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, “the size of small airplanes.”
Because the strata of the cliffs is exposed to the elements, it’s an amateur paleontologist’s playground, known for dropping fossils from the Middle Miocene period (that’s about 10 to 20 million years ago). It is one of the great places on the East Coast to rock-hunt and find a fair amount of prehistoric shark’s teeth and oyster shells, Chesapectens and ecphoras (those are swirly fossilized mollusks), and parts of the shore below are open season for collecting (but not the cliffs and the area right below the cliffs due to rockslides and erosion ).
Captain Smith saw a few other things you’re not likely to see anytime soon in Maryland - as he wrote in his log, “…the valleys very fertile, but extreme[ly] thick of small wood so well as trees, and much frequented with Wolves, Bears, Deere and other wild beasts.”
Know Before You Go
From DC, take MD Route 4 (exit 11) off the Beltway/I-95 and keep on going south/southeast until you see the signs. There is a modest entry fee ($5 for a car) and ample parking. The hike from the parking lot to the beach is 1.8 miles on a trail rated "Easy;" good shoes and water are a good idea; the park provides water coolers along the way, and there are benches. There is no lifeguard at the beach.
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