On May 29, 2013 JoAnn and I had an opportunity to visit Ashfall Fossil Beds. It had been particularly rainy that spring and rolling hills in the area were green. Chris and I visited again on March 20, 2015 and flew the drone “leaf” over Ashfall. This video is at the end of this post!
Ashfall is not open for the majority of the year so check ahead to make sure you can stop.
I would consider this one of the most interesting paleontology sites I’ve had the chance to visit.
The story is nicely told in a Smithsonian Magazine article which describes animals living near a water hole twelve million years ago. As a result of a massive volcanic eruption over 1,000 miles away these animals died a rather slow painful death over a few days to a few weeks. Over a foot of ash was deposited and it caused respiratory disease, something that has been studied extensively. Check out the story of Ashfall from the state park.
When you arrive there is a very nice visitor center that explains the site very clearly and they you take a short jaunt to the Hubbard Rhino Barn. Once you enter you begin to grasp the magnitude of the volcanic eruption and come to know the individual animals that died here about 12 million years ago. The Geology of the site is nicely explained here and elsewhere on site.
There is a large covered excavation area that is worked every year uncovering new information about this site. One area that captured my attention was an adult female rhino named Sandy with a one month old rhino calf named Justin just above her head. Justin may have been Sandy’s calf.
Ashfall is thought of as a rhino site but there is an array of other animals that also perished during the eruption period including camels, a variety of horses, and many others.
One of the interesting things you learn about this location is that the animals did not die immediately but perished over a few days to a few weeks depending on the size of the animals. The bones of these animals have been intensively studied and the study of what happened is nicely told here.
On March 20 of 2015 my son Chris and I drove past Ashfall on the way to the northwest side of Nebraska (Toadstool State Park, Agate Fossil Beds, etc.) and it looked like Ashfall would be closed. It was when we arrived so we took the opportunity to fly Leaf over Ashfall. Check out this video. The biggest building is the Hubbard Rhino Barn.
Don’t miss this opportunity. The site is nicely connected to Morrill Hall in Lincoln also!