Photo1Under a sky, hazy with volcanic ash, strange animals once roamed the prairie now called Western Nebraska.  Details of their intriguing story can be found in a dramatic Visitor Center at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument.  Here, you can meet the small rhinoceros of its day, the Menoceras, which died in abundance, creating a huge fossil bonebed famous since its discovery in the early 1900’s.  Other animals attracted to the death scene were even more bizarre, such as the huge hog-like Dinohyus, larger than a buffalo, which dominated all life forms with its fearsome teeth and angular skull.  The long-necked Moropus, on the other hand, combined features of many different contemporary animals from horse to bear to sloth.

Another intriguing animal, the land dwelling beaver, Palaeocastor, dug perfect spiral burrows which have likewise become fossilized over time, provoking the name “Devil’s Corkscrews.”

The animals found at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument came from some 19-21 million years ago during a longer time period described by scientists as the early Miocene Epoch (5-23 million years ago) when the land mass was drying out and abundant animals responded to a new food source as grasslands replaced forest and jungle. Some of these creatures, though slightly different anatomically, resemble those of today.  Others came in peculiar shapes and sizes, now long extinct, and truly reflect the monsters of yesteryear, whether real or imagined. These are the animals that replaced the dinosaurs.

The Visitor Center features an informative film and various displays, along with a life-size diorama that depicts the ancient animals and the theories concerning their existence. Outside, trails lead to the fossil areas, with a few of the corkscrew burrows exposed, while most fossils still remain hidden in the ground.  The Visitor Center also features the story of the fossil discoverer, rancher James Cook, an interesting man whose friendship with High Plains tribes of Native Americans unfolds through a unique collection of American Indian artifacts in the Cook Gallery.

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, 301 River Rd.
Harrison, NE 69346
(308) 668-2211