Tag Archives: National Monument

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument

Overview

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.

Highlights

Museum, film, Daemonelix Trail

Must-Do Activity

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.  

Best Trail

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.

Instagram-worthy Photo

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.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/agfo/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

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.

Camping

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?

Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument

Following meetings in regards to development in North Las Vegas, the Protectors of Tule Springs was founded in 2006 and successfully preserved 22,650 acres of federal land eight years later.  The area contains fossils of Columbian mammoths, ground sloths, American lions, ancient camels, dire wolves, sabre-toothed cats, bison, and three ancient species of horse ranging from 7,000- to 250,000-years-old.  There are plans to open a National Park Service (NPS) visitor center at the end of Aliante Parkway.

Highlights

Upper Las Vegas Wash, natural bridge, trash cleanup

Must-Do Activity

The actual Tule Springs are a desert oasis contained within Floyd Lamb Park, operated by the City of Las Vegas.  The Bureau of Land Management formerly controlled the acreage that became the National Monument and it was heavily impacted by garbage dumping, off-road driving, and shooting.  Your “must-do activity” here is to remove some trash.  The Protectors of Tule Springs have hosted several cleanup events.

Best Trail

There are no trails within the National Monument yet, but there are two access points to Upper Las Vegas Wash from Durango Drive and Aliante Parkway.  The wash contains Joshua trees and several patches of the rare Las Vegas bear poppy, and provides habitat for threatened desert tortoises, burrowing owls, and kit foxes.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Hike the Upper Las Vegas Wash about a half-mile east from the end of Durango Drive and look for a natural bridge carved in the soft mudstone wall. 

Peak Season

Winter when snow dusts the top of the Sheep Range and Las Vegas Range of mountains.

Hours

Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument is open sunrise to sunset.  Information is available at visitor centers in Lake Mead National Recreation Area. https://www.nps.gov/tusk/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Roads are paved to access points at the north end of Durango Drive and at the end of Aliante Parkway.  Look for wire barriers and small brown NPS signs at the two parking areas.

Camping

None within the National Monument, but free dispersed camping is allowed within Desert National Wildlife Refuge to the north.  There are campgrounds in nearby Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

Explore More – In what year did National Geographic conduct a 4-month study here to catalog thousands of Ice Age mammal fossils?

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

Overview

Like John Day Fossil Beds in Oregon, this area in central Colorado protects a geologically significant window into the past.  Here the fossils are 34-million years old, buried by volcanic debris and lake sediments, with species that do not look that different from plants and animals we see today. 

Highlights

Museum, Ponderosa Loop, Petrified Forest Loop, Big Stump, Hornbek Homestead

Must-Do Activity

A variety of butterflies, birds, leaves, and flowers are nicely displayed in the visitor center.  Our favorite was the bloom of Florissantia speirii, an extinct member of the cocoa family that grew at this site when the climate was much warmer and wetter.  After exploring the museum, head outside on the wheelchair-accessible Ponderosa Loop or hike some of the monument’s 14 miles of trails.

Best Trail

Take a walk on the Ponderosa or Petrified Forest Loops to see excavated stumps of massive redwood trees, fossilized in place with beautifully colored minerals replacing the original organic compounds.  You can even see annual growth rings preserved in the petrified wood.  If you have not experienced the massive dimensions of coast redwoods in California, these stumps will make you want to visit those living trees in person.

Instagram-worthy Photo

On your walk through the ponderosa pine forest, you may spot an Abert’s squirrel, a species known for its long ear tufts.  Also watch for elk.

Peak Season

Summer due to high elevation

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/flfo/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$10 per adult or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The main roads are paved, but Upper Twin Rock Road is not.

Camping

None within the National Monument, but there are several campgrounds in the surrounding Pike National Forest, as well as dispersed camping opportunities.

Explore More – At the bottom of Ancient Lake Florissant, the microlayers of fine volcanic ash and clay formed what type of sedimentary rock?

Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument

Overview

More than 3.5-million years ago, this section of southern Idaho was on a floodplain of a giant lake.  Lush grasslands and forests attracted camels, llamas, mastodons, zebra-like horses, and a variety of birds.  Their fossils were not discovered until 1928, on the steep bluffs on the west bank of the Snake River, now Lower Salmon Falls Reservoir.

Highlights

Museum, film, Snake River Overlook, Oregon Trail Overlook

Must-Do Activity

Numerous mammal fossils from the Pliocene Epoch are on display at the National Park Service visitor center, located on the main drag in the small town of Hagerman, Idaho.  Scenic overlooks of the Snake River and Oregon Trail are located further south, but there is no public access to the fossil beds.

Best Trail

The 3-mile long Emigrant Trail parallels the Oregon National Historic Trail, which has wagon ruts accessible from both the Snake River Overlook and Oregon Trail Overlook (where there is also a half-mile interpretive trail).

Instagram-worthy Photo

Interstate 84 passes directly over Malad Gorge State Park, north of Hagerman, Idaho.  Take the freeway exit and walk to the canyon rim to see the beautiful waterfall you missed from the bridge.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/hafo/planyourvisit/visitor-center-operating-hours-seasons.htm

Fees

None for Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, but there is a day-use fee at Malad Gorge State Park.

Road Conditions

The main access roads are paved.  There is a one-lane bridge crossing the Snake River off Highway 30 that was closed during our visit so we took the Gridley Island Bridge instead.

Camping

There are places to camp along many sections of the Snake River, but not within the National Monument.

Explore More – How many complete skeletons of zebra-like horses were discovered within Hagerman Fossil Beds?

Fossil Butte National Monument

Overview

One-hundred years after the creation of Yellowstone National Park, another Wyoming site was added to the National Park Service (NPS) system in 1972: Fossil Butte National Monument.  It is dedicated to 50-million-year-old fossils found in an ancient subtropical lakebed, including plants (like palms and ferns) and animals (like turtles and lemurs). 

Highlights

NPS museum, film, Fossil Lake Trail, Historic Quarry Trail

Must-Do Activity

Even 50-million years ago it was windy in Wyoming!  The excellent preservation of the fossils may be in part due to high winds that kept surface water well-oxygenated while deeper waters were stagnant.  If you need to get out of the wind, head into the visitor center to see fossil fish, turtles, and other species on display.  On the deck outside there is an awesome timeline that traces CO2 levels and life on Earth throughout geologic time.

Best Trail

Take the steep steps up the Historic Quarry Trail to find fish fossils still in the rocks.  There is no shade along the trail, but even in the summer the weather is usually not that hot at 7,000 feet in elevation.  From the picnic area, the 1.5-mile Fossil Lake Trail leads to aspen groves.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Get up close with fossils that stand out against the white bedrock in the NPS museum or on the Historic Quarry Trail.  On private land nearby, you can pay to excavate your own fish fossils that you get to keep.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/fobu/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Entrance road is paved

Camping

None within the National Monument, but to the north Bridger-Teton National Forest provides opportunities for dispersed camping.

Explore More – Kemmerer, Wyoming is home the very first example of which well-known department store?