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Agate Fossil Beds National Monument

February 4, 2010

Since we’re now more conveniently located in relation to the smorgasbord of western federal lands, husband and I bought a Parks Pass. We recently investigated another place to which the pass allows us access: Agate Fossil Beds National Monument. The monument has two main attractions: the visitor center and the trails.

Visitor center

Fully-articulated fossil replicas of prehistoric beasties pose in front of a window, through which is visible, in the distance, the hills in which the fossils were found.

Budget 30 minutes to an hour for visitor center. The small but very well-designed exhibit on the fossils found in the area is definitely worth a perusal. I recommend watching the center’s short introductory video about the monument to get you started. Several of the fossil displays are interactive and would appeal to grade-school kids. The center also houses a collection of Indian artifacts gifted to rancher James Cook (who brought in scientists to study the fossil bed on his land), but the artifact exhibit is offline while a new, theftproof display is installed (artifacts were nearly lost in a 2007 break-in). If you’re interested in botany, the center has a stack of preserved-plant identification cards to look through.

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Fossil Hills Trail

I bet the Fossil Hills Trail wetland boardwalk would be a great birdwatching spot in the spring and fall.

The ADA-accessible, concrete-paved Fossil Hills Trail starts behind the visitor center. It’s about 2.7 miles total if you follow the side paths around the hills and return to the visitors center. Snow is not cleared from the trail, so some patches are not very ADA-friendly in the winter. The treeless trail probably gets blazing hot in the summer; a few benches with sunshades are a nice touch. Unfortunately, the in situ fossil displays have been removed due to the danger of falling rock, making the trail rather boring unless you are a geologist or a nature-watcher. One portion of the trail crosses over an upstream Niobrara River wetland via boardwalk, and there are signs labeling many plant species along the trail. May and June promise colorful wildflowers. On our winter hike, we saw a few birds and lots of animal tracks (mostly deer and rodent). Thanks to the rodent population, there is also a healthy population of rattlesnakes, as implied by the number of “caution rattlesnake” signs posted around the park.

Daemonelix Trail

The Daemonelix trail, which begins in a parking lot near the intersection of Highway 29 and River Road, is about a mile (round trip) of crushed-rock trail. This trail is a little more interesting, fossil-wise, as it does have some in situ fossil casts of ancient dry-land beaver tunnels. One section of the trail is a little steep and includes some steps. Keep your eyes peeled, and you may spot the herd of mule deer that gazed at us from an adjacent bluff. (We also spotted several herds of pronghorn antelope on our morning drive up Highway 29.)

Copyright 2010 by Katie Bradshaw

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