July 21, 2009
Agate Fossil Bed National Monument
A lovely cool prairie day with a gentle breeze so I can sit in the van while Cary does the weekly conference call. We gambled on cell phone service at the national monument to make his call.The rangers have been very accommodating and set him up at a desk!
You have to want to get to this place and, honestly, it isn’t the best fossil beds I’ve toured.That’s because yesterday we got to see the Hudson-Meng Bison Bone bed, where 1,000s of bison bones are preserved in ancient mud. Of course, technically, the Bison bed bones are not fossils. They are not old enough. The bones pulled from Agate fossil bed are true fossils, 19 million years old. Unfortunately, the actual fossil beds are hidden under piles of rock and closed to visitors who might disturb them. The visitor center is lovely, the rangers knowledgeable, their displays well done but the actual fossil beds were bust. After the conference call we’ll do one more hike and that may have more fossils.
Yesterday we drove into the Ogala National Prairie and went to pasture 27 to look for rocks.We found lots of agates and crystals and other fine rocks. The pasture appears to undulate in a sea of waving greenery but as you walk into it you find rocky exposures where the fine old rock samples are exposed. You will be reassured to know that a person can collect up to 70 lbs of rocks a day from National Forests and Prairies, without consequence. We did not collect 70 lbs but we are working on replacing all that we sold in Pennsylvania. From Pasture 27 we went down to Toadstool Park where the sandstone deposits have eroded faster than the clay on top leaving funny pedastals of stone. The clay is old river bed and rich in fossils. We saw rhinoceros ancestor footprints, stretching almost ¾ mile along the trail. It is always a fine day to get to scramble about on great rocks. The undercuts are full of swallow nests and the swallows swarm in great clouds out and back from their homes.
From Toadstool we went along to Hudson-Meng and the bison bone bed, stopping on our way at a “homestead” called the Cook Shack. The little restaurant was closed but a woman stuck her head out the screen door to say she did have pie and ice cream and sasparilla floats if we wanted. Since we are on holiday we enjoyed peach pie, strawberry-rhubarb pie and a float for lunch. It was fine. The restaurant is part of a small old ranch which included an abandoned school. The official state of Nebraska registers for the school were still on the shelf. The book is a state form, the teacher completes it annually to satisfy the state and give the next teacher some idea of where her students were at the end of the year. One entry read “due to the harsh winter, we only had 5 months of school this year.” One young woman had trouble with her arithemetic for every year of entry. Another young man “could not be persuaded to attend school regularly.”
Hudson-Meng was a covered, cooled site which was a relief after the heat of the day. The origins of the bone bed are controversial – a mass hunting after “herding” the bison up a waterway? Disease? Famine? There is evidence of spears in the bones of the bison so it seems much more likely that they were hunted. The shear volume of bones is astonishing. Conditions here are such that they can dessicate the bison meat rapidly so they could preserve the meat for winter. They “tan” the bison hide by using the animals brain. The guide said (in an off hand way), every animal can be tanned with its own brain. Oh yea, my mother taught me that too!