This is a ghost of the original Caloosahatchee River when it zig-zagged its way across Southwest Florida. Oxbows like this one were formed when the old river was converted into a canal by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. What's left of the old river has no flow and has become a home for exotic plants. Large yachts now travel the canal portion of the old river, which has been carved from 100 feet wide to over 500 feet wide, and has been dredged from 8 feet deep to over 20 feet deep.

Time Sifting in the Caloosahatchee

By Mark Renz

Before modern man had dreams of taming the wild, the Caloosahatchee was truly an awesome river. With as many as 600 twists and turns, it slithered like a snake for over half of its 60 mile journey. Near its headwaters east of LaBelle, it had a six-foot waterfall.

The water ran so clear that if it wasn't for the abundance of fish, you could easily see the bottom. A hundred years ago, the river averaged eight feet deep. But not today.

In hindsight, the changes may have been inevitable. We wanted to drain wetlands, harness flooding and cut a watery path from the west coast to the east for boat traffic. In the process, the Caloosahatchee River became Canal No. 43 on the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineer maps.

It's sad to think that a pristine river formed by global forces, has -- in the geological blink of an eye -- been destroyed by an upright animal with no foresight. Some of the alterations were necessary, especially for flood control for public safety. But most of the changes were for human conveniences - without regard for the rights and welfare of other living creatures - both plants and animals.

So what does a fossil hunter do with a dead river? He or she tries to resurrect what has died. The Caloosahatchee River bottom, which was once a repository for the remains of all the creatures that lived along its banks, has been relocated. Some of that bottom was dug up and dumped along the banks and up to a mile inland. If you know where to look, the bottom is still there. And it still contains the fossilized life forms from several million years past.