The Hermit Formation

In Northern Arizona

(Uploaded 12/27/08)

By far one of the most interesting of terrestrial Permian deposits is the Hermit Formation. Exposed over a large portion of Northern Arizona, the main localities include the slopes of the Mogollon Rim, Sedona, and Strawberry and the Grand Canyon. The age of the deposits are 285 - 275 million years old. The most famous of course is the outcrops in the weathered slopes below the spectacular buttes in Sedona and Oak Creek. The Hermit formed from huge alluvial fans and floodplain deposits that crossed Northern Arizona during the Permian before the Pedregosa Sea had transgressed, and is built on the Supai group which crosses the Pennsylvanian - Permian boundary. Deposits are typically a fine grained to coarse reddish brown shale - a typical "red bed" as they are called, both in massive bedding and a fine fissile papery shale.

Fossils are not easy to find in the Hermit Formation, however some of the most interesting plant impressions and both invertebrate and vertebrate trackways are also found here. While some deposits we have visited contain huge calamities stumps over four inches in diameter, others have ferns and leaves. Many unusual trace fossils have also been found by us over the years. Some of the more interesting include centipede trackways, branch drag and tooling marks, wave ripples, reptile and mammal like reptile tracks and trackways. The rarest fossils include giant lycopod stumps, carbonized plant impressions, and the trackways of the giant sail backed mammal like reptile, Dimetrodon.


Many road cuts along Highway 260 east of Payson have provided good collecting for years for fossil hunters. This one, outside of Christopher Creek is a good example of the massive and fine bedding of the Hermit Shale. Although only a few plant fossils have been found in this area, it gives one a good feel for the general appearance of the deposits. Seen here is my friend Vince's red Cherokee, the Zimmermanns white Explorer and our blue Jeep Wrangler.

This magnificent view was taken from a sandstone quarry east of Sedona. A whole host of geologic features can be seen here. In the foreground, where our blue Jeep is parked is the Hermit Shale. It usually forms weathered slopes because it is softer. Above it is towering buttes of Schnebly Hill Formation, consisting of red sandstones. In the distance, the much more yellow Coconino Sandstone can be seen. It caps the Schnebly Hill Formation.

Here my wife and our friend Rose are in one of the many creeks in the Oak Creek area near Sedona examining large slabs of Walchia fossil plant material that have washed down the creek. Many of the outcrops of the Hermit are badly weathered into slopes and fresh exposures like can be seen in road cuts and active creeks provide much better exposures.

Up on the Mogollon Rim are numerous exposures of the Hermit as well. Although not as famous as the Sedona scenery, these outcrops are exactly the same material, and contain the same fossils. Road cuts such as these provide an excellent opportunity to study the variable lithology of the shales. Our friend Vince searches for plant material here.

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