A great attraction to visit while staying at Niobrara State Park is just 30 minutes south, down a country road, in the middle of nowhere—Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park. Here you will see complete skeletons of animals that were buried under a blizzard of volcanic ash about 12 million years ago. Thus, the name “Ashfall.”
The Ashfall Fossil Beds:
In 1971, paleontologist Mike Voohies was excavating on Melvin Colson’s cornfield. He found the skull of a baby rhino protruding from the side of a gully, at the bottom of newly exposed gray ash. They ended up with 100 rhino skeletons in that spot. It’s at this point that I said, “Oh, rhinos, that’s interesting, I guess. [pause] Wait a second. Rhinos in Nebraska?” Yes, and camels and zebras and horned rodents and so much more. The brochure says, “It is clear that before the catastrophic ashfall occurred, the area was inhabited by a rich variety of life reminiscent of modern East African savannah.” Amazing.
The scientists think that ash from a huge volcanic eruption in the Rocky Mountains (probably southwestern Idaho), blew eastward and quickly devastated the landscape. Animals drowned or struggled through drifts of ash as if in a blizzard. They died where they lay, and that’s why they also refer to this park as a “Prairie Pompeii.”
Instead of removing all the bones and putting them into a museum, they have preserved them where they lay. You walk into an open-sided barn and walk above the fossils, and a helpful student hands you a Skeleton Map so you can know what you are looking at. It’s really very shocking at first. So many skeletons all in one place. Babies next to their mothers, and in a special case on one wall, there is the skeleton of an unborn baby rhino. Here are some pictures that will explain it better than I can:
#2 3-toed Horse:
Adult Female Rhino:
Young Adult Male Rhino:
This is a really fascinating place for kids and adults. There are digs still going on, and a paleontologist is working at the center who will answer questions and will walk out and give a tour of current digs. Here’s a picture of one of the current digs (zebra) and a picture of the sifting table and the main building:
Not a bad day for $5 for adults, plus $3.50 for a park sticker, which we didn’t need because we already had one. Get your state park stickers!
Also, the weather was gorgeous that day. They were having an unusually cool day. And I mean cool—it was at least 3 in the afternoon before the temperature got close to 80. We actually turned the heat on in the Miata! That night, the temperature got down into the 50s! I asked the lady taking the money at the front of the park if this was normal, because if it was, I’m moving there! She said it wasn’t and that they should have been in the 90s. So, it was a wonderful day for an outing. We actually had great weather the whole time and always rode with the top down in the Miata. So, I now have the tannest shoulders in Nebraska.
Well, that's about it for the trip. I did say I'd do a review of the book I read, and I'll post it this weekend sometime.
Thanks for coming along for the trip!