Originally I had planned on 3 days to visit Laramie, Scotts Bluff and Agate Fossil Beds. However, we had rain all day on Sunday. Then on Monday we had to take Kip to a vet to remove the staple stitches from his leg. So we ended up visiting Scotts Bluff and Agate on Tuesday (Fort Laramie was visited on Saturday). Finally I added Chimney Rock since it was only 40 minutes from Scotts Bluff. So here is how the day went.
Chimney Rock National Historic Site
First stop was Chimney Rock NHS. One of the most famous and recognizable landmarks along the Oregon/California/Mormon trails, Chimney Rock is a natural geologic formation that is a remnant of a bluff erosion along the North Platte River. It consists of a conical base with a spire at the top. The base rises 325 feet above the valley floor. The spire is 120 feet by itself. Incredibly beautiful to see, it was the most mentioned landmark by the emigrants. It was important to them because it signaled the beginning of the real west. In a couple of weeks, they would be at Ft Laramie where they could re-provision for the rest of their journey.
The visitor center has a short film and several interactive exhibits (load a wagon with ‘provisions’).In this way you can see more of what it was like to travel on the prairie.
Scotts Bluff National Monument
Another landmark on the trails west, this bluff rises 800 feet above the plains. It is about 40 miles west of Chimney Rock. Really amazing when you think of how it was formed. About 22 million years ago, the plains were all as high as the top of Scotts Bluff. Then erosion came along and scoured out the area around it. That was a lot of soil movement!
The visitor center here has a short film and several exhibits. You can also drive to the top of the bluff and see some cool views of the area.
After this visit, we stopped at Sonic for lunch. We ordered a burger patty to split between the dogs and burgers for us. Yum.
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
We finally left the westward migration sites and stopped in at the Agate Fossil Beds site. It is about 50 minutes north of Scotts Bluff. In the early 1900’s several fossils were found here that led to the discovery of bone pools where hundreds of fossilized bones from the Miocene Era (23-5 million years ago). Several periods of severe droughts hit the plains area, and as the water holes dried up, hundreds of animals died. The fossils found here are mostly Moropus, a distant relative of the horse, Menoceras, a 3 foot tall rhinoceros, Daphoenodon, a carnivorous dog commonly called the bear dog, its family branch eventually died out, Dinohyus, a scavenger, Stenomylus, a gazelle-camel, and the Palaeocastor, a dry-land beaver.
The prehistoric beaver was interesting. There are several huge spiral fossils that scientists originally thought were tap roots o an ancient plant . Someone finally realized they were not roots but the fossilized remains of burrows. They looked pretty cool. I couldn’t get any good shots of them on my phone camera . We didn’t take the Damonelix trail to see them in person, because the weather was still not cooperating, i.e. heavy rains. There was one on display in the visitor center, but it was poorly lit, and I couldn’t get a good photo of it.
Also on display was the James Cook Collection of American Indian Artifacts. He was a frontiersman, scout, and hunter before settling the ranch where the fossils were found. He met the Lakota (Sioux) chief Red Cloud and became friends with him and his tribe. Over the course of his lifetime, he collected lots of items given to him and his family from the Lakotas.
Some of the items were pictographs on buffalo hides. They would paint pictures on hides in a clockwise spiral depicting important events from the year. The pictograph below is of Custer’s last stand and a buffalo hunt.
After touring Agate we had a two hour drive home to our campsite. All in all it was a fascinating but very long day. We learned a lot about the westward migration and fossils of the Miocene era. Next up, Devils Tower.