The Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, located just 17 miles from the Wyoming border in the northwest corner of Nebraska, is one of the world’s most complete repositories of ancient Miocene bones. Within the “The Great Bonebed of Agate,” paleontologists located the remains of Miocene mammals from 19-21 million years ago, a time when the forests and jungles of an earlier era were being replaced by grasslands and a drier climate.
The area has been called “Nebraska’s Serengeti Plain” because of an uncanny geological resemblance to Africa’s Serengeti Plain. During the Miocene Epoch, the area was exposed to alternating wet and dry seasons, with periodic flooding. An ancient Agate stream existed, with a similarity to the sand rivers of East Africa.
The bonebed revealed the remains of three mammals that once called the Agate Fossil Bed area home. These are the small rhino Menoceras, the horse-headed sloth-footed Moropus, and the rarest: the fearsome Dinohyus – somewhat of a bastardly cross between an angry bison and a pig. Visitors to Agate Fossil Beds National Monument can marvel at a life-size visual interpretation of what mammals that used to roam the American Plains may have looked like.
But equally compelling is the Cook Collection of American Indian artifacts, a light and climate-controlled area that houses an intriguing collection of gifts given to the rancher and first American discoverer of the agate fossil bed, James H. Cook. (Cook and his son Harold would eventually welcome paleontologists from around the world to help uncover the secrets buried in the bonebed.)
The gifts to James Cook and his family came from members of the Oglala Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne, including notable chiefs and warriors such as Red Cloud. Of special note is Red Cloud’s shirt as well as pipebags from Red Cloud, his father, and his son. The museum houses one of Crazy Horse’s whetstones along with gifted items of buckskin, beaded moccasins, and more.
For those with more time, try some of the hikes. Ranging from one-three miles, the hikes highlight the natural history and wildlife of the Niobrara River Valley.
Visitor Center and Museum
Memorial Day through Labor Day
Daily 8:00 am–6:00 pm
Daily 8:00 am–4:00 pm
Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day