If you’re fascinated by critters that populated the Earth centuries ago, than look no farther than western Nebraska and South Dakota.
The two states have several sites where fossils of animals – from mammoths to Dinohyus and more – can be viewed. A stretch of highway that connects the two states has been dubbed the Fossil Freeway and provides an built-in excursion for fossil-loving visitors.
Mammoth Site, Hot Springs, S.D. – The Mammoth Site is home to a major paleontological discovery in the Black Hills, where the remains of more than 100 mammoths can be found in the location where the animals died. The discovery of the fossils occurred in 1974, and to date 55 Columbian and three woolly mammoths have been excavated, along with more than 80 other species of animals and plants. The mammoths were discovered in a prehistoric sinkhole, and a 36,000-square-foot visitor’s center serves as a great way to view and learn about the prehistoric animals.
Toadstool Geologic Park, Northwestern Nebraska – This site gets its name from the sandstone blocks balanced on narrow pedestals of sediment. The formations still bear tracks of extinct animals and are the remnants of a river that flowed through the area 30 million years ago. Volcanic ash deposited in the area from the west coast has helped preserve the fossils. Fossils that can be viewed here include tortoises, rhinos, birds, saber toothed cats, early dogs, large pig-like animals, oreodonts, small tusked deer, three-toed horses, early camels, bats, snakes, rodents lizards and more.
Hudson-Meng, Northwestern Nebraska – This site is home to the discovery of hundreds of antique bison fossils, discovered in 1954 during the construction of a stock pond. Various theories have been proposed as to why the bison skeletons were deposited in the area and scientists are still working to solve the mystery.
Trailside Museum, Fort Robinson, Crawford, Nebraska – This museum’s central focus is the remains of two large mammoths locked in combat since the Ice Age. The Columbian mammoths died with their tusks permanently intertwined; they were discovered in 1962 and are on display at the museum with other rare fossils.
Agate Fossil Beds, Central Sioux County, Nebraska – At this national monument you can see the Menoceras, a small rhinoceros, the huge hog-like Dinohyus and the long-necked Moropus. A land dwelling beaver, Palaeocastor, also dug perfect spiral burrows known at the Devil’s Corkscrews.
Scottsbluff National Monument, Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska – Exposed layers of rock here date from 33 million years ago and encase fossils of ancient horses, camels, rhinos, oreodonts, tortoises, rodents and trace fossils such as animal burrows.
Wildcat Hills Nature Center, Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska – This is the southern gateway to the Fossil Freeway where a wealth of small mammal fossils have been discovered. The Nature Center includes a 25 million year old fossil discovered in the Nebraska Panhandle in 1932 – two saber tooth cats intertwined in death, with one cat’s canine tooth embedded in the other’s shoulder blade.
For more on each of the sites, visit https://www.fossilfreeway.net/