Scott's Bluff & Agate Fossil Beds Nat'l Monuments

Trip Start Mar 02, 2011
Trip End Oct 14, 2011

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Where I stayed
Capri Motel

Flag of United States  , Nebraska
Friday, September 9, 2011

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I went to Scott's Bluff National Monument today. My first stop was the Visitor Center but before reaching it you're already aware of the bluff rising 800 feet out of the surrounding prairie. Scott's Bluff has been a natural landmark for many peoples, and it served as the path marker for those on the Oregon, California, Mormon and Pony Express Trails.

Scott's Bluff was made a national monument in 1919. Some development was done but, like much of our national park system, most of the infrastructure in Scott's Bluff National Monument was built in the 1930s by the CCC. The Visitor Center, roads and trails were all built by them.

Scott's Bluff is an unusual geological feature but the main reason for the park is to commemorate the Oregon Trail, which went through a narrow pass in the middle of the bluff. The Visitor Center has a movie and exhibits about the pioneers who took the Oregon Trail and, to a lesser extent, the travelers who took the Mormon Trail, which paralleled the Oregon Trail on the other side of the Platt River in this area. I found the exhibits interesting and informative.

I took the one road in the park to the top of the bluff. There are two short trails that lead to overlooks, which I took, and a long trail that leads back to the Visitor Center, which I didn't take. The longer trail passes by the rock face of the butte so you can see some of the geological features up close. It looked like an interesting trail but it would have taken a couple hours to hike it both directions and I couldn't count on catching a ride back to the top from the Visitor Center.

I then went to the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, which is about an hour north of Scott's Bluff. My first stop was the Visitor Center where I watched a movie about the park and looked at the exhibits. I was expecting an extensive museum similar to the one at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument but the exhibits here are much less extensive.

The small scale of the museum may be due to the park's history. These fossil beds were discovered in the1890s. The owner at the time, Capt. James Cook, invited scientists to his ranch to study the fossils. The scientists found large numbers of mammal fossils from around 20 million years ago, which are now in museum collections around the world, but active digging didn't last long, no digging is currently being done and nearly all of the study of the fossils was done elsewhere. The land remained in the Cook family until 1965 when it was authorized as a National Monument and sold to the Federal Government but it was not developed until 1997, well after the digging occurred.

One surprise at the Visitor Center was the James H. Cook Collection, which is a collection of American Indian artifacts. Capt. Cook maintained good relations with the Oglala Lakota Sioux and they were frequent guests at his ranch. The collection consists of items that were given to the Cook family as gifts over the years.

There are two trails at the park. One goes out to the two hills where the fossils were found, which I hiked. There are no fossil exhibits on the trail. I intended to take the other trail, which goes to some fossilized animal borrows that are in the shape of corkscrews, but I started talking to a ranger and another park visitor and before I knew it, the sun was going down and it was time to head back to my hotel.
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