My daughter, Rory, is a fifth grade Alexandria public school student with just a few months left before making the big jump to middle-school. Recently she had a field trip with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in order to study, first hand, the plant and animal life of the bay. Thinking about this called up memories of school field trips I took when I was her age. Growing up in the Hampton Roads area, many of my field trips were related to the bay and its wildlife. But the one field trip that stands out as my favorite of them all was to a rather unique treasure of Hampton Roads: Rice’s Fossil Pit.
I had been a student at Hampton Roads Academy only a few months when the trip happened as part of Mrs. Sailor’s sixth-grade science class, as I recall. We were told ahead of time to bring in a digging implement of some sort. I remember going to A&N with my mother and finding a military-style collapsible shovel / pick, which I still have today.
We bussed out there, down Fox Hill Rd. to Harris Creek Rd. ( map ), and as we pulled up to park all I could see was trees. As I approached on foot, however, the pit revealed itself. It was a striking sight — 70 feet deep and a huge distance across with terraces along the edges winding down at different heights. I remember feeling amazed and awed at the site of it.
Jane Rice, daughter in-law of the man who brought this pit to the public (more on that in a moment) recently described the experience of the pit in a manner with which I completely agree.
“To me, it was always like walking back through time into the prehistoric era,” says Rice, who accompanied her mother-in-law into the pit almost every day for an evening stroll.
“When you looked around, it was almost unbelievable. It was like being in a different world.”
We wound our way to the bottom of the pit and began digging. The prospect of finding something ancient was extremely exciting for me. The day was a scorcher but that didn’t slow down our digging.