Ancient mammal bones from Agate Fossil Beds can be found in museums around the world. Excavations began at Carnegie Hill in 1904 and soon thereafter at University Hill to be shipped back to Lincoln, Nebraska. You would never guess at the thousands of fossils removed from these nondescript hills while hiking the 2.7 miles across the prairie from the National Park Service (NPS) visitor center.
Museum, film, Daemonelix Trail
The NPS visitor center has an excellent display of the 20-million-year-old inhabitants of this spot, as well as a great collection of American Indian artifacts. You can also learn about the mystery of the daemonelix, a corkscrew burrow which baffled researchers until it was eventually discovered to have been formed by palaeocastor, an ancestral land beaver.
The Daemonelix Trail on the west side of the National Monument allows you to get an up close view of one of the palaeocastor’s corkscrew burrows. A cast of this exact same formation is on display at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C.
Northwest of the National Monument in Oglala National Grassland, Toadstool Geologic Park is a beautiful badlands that is best photographed at sunset. While exploring its trails, look for fossilized bones and trackways, plus be sure to visit the Hudson-Meng Education and Research Center, which is open in the summer.
The entrance road from Highway 29 in the west and through the park is paved, but turns to well-graded gravel east of the National Monument.
No camping within the National Monument, but there is a free primitive campground at Toadstool Geologic Park in Oglala National Grassland. Fort Robinson State Park offers camping, cabin rentals, and accommodations in former military barracks.
Explore More – How did the frontiersman James H. Cook collect the impressive array of American Indian artifacts now on display in the NPS visitor center?