Nebraska Attractions June 15, 2020
Nebraska Is Home To Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, An Underrated Ancient Wonder
One of Nebraska’s most fascinating but underrated attractions is located in western Nebraska down a long stretch of rural roads. The drive is calming and quite lovely, and when you get to your destination you’ll be glad you took the time to visit.
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument is located in a remote spot southeast of Harrison in western Nebraska. It was originally Agate Springs Ranch, a cattle ranch owned by Capt. James Cook.
When Capt. Cook came upon a bizarre spiral object on his land in the early 1890s, he knew he'd found something special. He called Erwin Barbour, head of the Department of Geology at the University of Nebraska. Barbour found a six-foot-tall stone corkscrew that was unlike anything he - or anyone else - had ever seen.
There were a few theories about the identity and purpose of the corkscrew formation. Scientists believed it to be the fossil of an ancient lake sponge, then came up with the idea that they were made by ancient tree roots. Eventually they learned the truth: these formations were the ancient burrows of the paeleocastor, an extinct species of beaver.
As more and more exploration was done in the area, paleontologists found many more Miocene-era mammal fossils. Some of the species discovered there include the moropus, a relative of modern-day hippos and horses; menocerus, a rhinoceros the size of a modern pony; and stenomylus, a relative of modern camels. These finds would come to be known as some of the best examples of Miocene mammal fossils.
Today, you can see some examples of the daemonelix and other fossils along the Daemonelix Trail inside Agate Fossil Beds National Monument. The short one-mile walk takes you through some stunning scenery along the way. Leashed dogs are allowed and there is no fee to enjoy the trail.
If you visit when the visitor center is open, you can see even more incredible specimens inside. Some are even complete fossils of the ancient animals that once roamed these grassy plains and rocky hills.
The visitor center also contains the Cook Collection, an array of Native American artifacts given to the Cook family by their Native American friends. You'll see beaded moccasins, pipe bags, and painted hides, along with much more.
Whether you’re a fan of fossils, Native American artifacts, hiking, or gazing at the high plains mixed-grass prairie, you’re sure to love this underrated destination. If you’d like to learn more, visit the
National Park Service page for Agate Fossil Beds National Monument.
While you’re in the general area, be sure to visit another western Nebraska wonder,
Toadstool Geologic Park. Address: 301 River Rd, Harrison, NE 69346, USA