Over 20 million years ago, drought swept across what is now northwest Nebraska. Dwarf rhinoceros, beardog, land beaver, horse, camel and many other species crowded the few remaining watering holes in an effort to survive.
In the 1880s, James Cook, a rancher with an interest in paleontology, discovered fossils of these ancient animals that had been preserved between layers of agate and ash. The bonebed was excavated in 1904, enabling scientists to reconstruct skeletons and create life-like replicas of these ancient and unusual animals, now on display in the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument visitor center.
A walk along the banks of the Niobrara River is like walking back in time. Visit the restored 1910 homestead of Harold Cook, see exhibits about fossils found in the region, and study the petrified corkscrew-shaped burrows built by land beavers millennia ago. The Daemonelix Trail brings you to a high point above the beaver colony, where you can take in sweeping views of the Nebraska plains.
If You Go
The Cook Collection in the visitor center includes many Native American artifacts presented as gifts to the Cook family by Lakota and Northern Cheyenne. This unique family treasure includes a shirt worn by Red Cloud, a hide painted with a scene from the Custer battle, and whetstones belonging to Crazy Horse.