Agate Fossil Beds National Monument

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument

Planning Your Visit

Things To Know Before You Come

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument is located in a very remote area. No camping is permitted within park boundaries. A modern, covered picnic area with drinking fountains is located near the visitor center; and bottled water, juice, and soda pop are available from a vending machine inside.

If traveling from the south; Scottsbluff, Gering and Mitchell all have RV camping, restaurants and gas stations. The closest of these, Mitchell, is 34 miles south of Agate Fossil Beds.

If traveling from the north; primitive camping is available at Gilbert-Baker Park 5 miles north of Harrison or RV camping is available in Harrison at the Sage Motel and at the city park where there are 2 free hookups. Also 20 miles east of Harrison on Hwy 20 is Fort Robinson State Park which has multiple camping areas. There are two restaurants, a gas station open during the weekdays, a motel and a hotel bed and breakfast in Harrison which is 24 miles from Agate Fossil Beds.

East of Harrison on Hwy. 20 is Crawford, NE with gas stations, restaurants and motels. To the West of Harrison on Hwy 20 is Lusk, WY also with gas stations, restaurants and motels.

 

Prescribed Burn slated for Spring 2008

The Northern Great Plains Fire and Agate Fossil Beds National Monument staffs plan to conduct a prescribed fire. The scheduled dates are mid to late April. Dates can not be set very far ahead of time as the conditions must be evaluated on a daily basis. �A fire management plan has been in place at Agate Fossil Beds for several years. This plan establishes the objectives, acceptable weather conditions, site preparation, equipment, staff, firing operation, notifications, and other details for the use of prescribed fire.

The goals of a prescribed burn at Agate Fossil Beds are

  • To restore the natural processes on a mixed grass prairie.
  • To reduce fuel loading (thatch) in prairie areas.
  • To decrease fuel continuity by creating a mosaic of burned and unburned shrub lands and woody draws.

Periodic burns

  • Improve conditions for certain plants and animals
  • Reduce levels of flammable fuel
  • Can improve forage
  • Recycle nutrients
  • Remove undesirable competing vegetation

The National Park Service has a fire monitoring program that provides guidance and sets standards for monitoring methods. Monitoring plots are established before a fire to document baseline vegetation conditions. During the fire weather conditions are recorded, photos are taken and fire behavior observations are made. The plots are revisited after the fire and again several years later to determine what changes, if any, have taken place in the vegetation.

One challenging side effect of a fire is smoke. Exposure to smoke can be reduced through actions by both park and public. Fire managers look for ignition days with unstable atmospheric conditions, which disperse the smoke by allowing the smoke to mix with the air. The general public can protect themselves by closing windows and doors, closing outside vents, staying indoors when smoke is present and if a respiratory condition exists, one may want to leave the area.

 

Weather

Agate has a Remote Access Weather Station (RAWS) that records hourly temperature, humidity, wind speed, maximum wind speed, wind direction, precipitation, and fuel stick temperature and moisture. Based on data from 1997 through 2002 (NPS 2002), Agate temperatures range from a maximum of 95�F. to 104�F.�from June-August, to a December-February minimum of -5�F to -22�. The mean annual precipitation at the park is 10.91" with most of it falling from January to August, but during that period in 2002 only 5.85" were recorded. The prevailing winds are from the northwest, west, or southwest, but have been recorded from all other directions at various times. Maximum annual windspeeds of 43-50 mph occur from November through February, but 49-50 mph winds have been recorded in May. There is no reliable record for the wind being calm at any recorded time.

The Niobrara River valley and its included wetlands through the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument are incised some 250' below the surrounding tablelands. The prevailing northwesterly and westerly winds across these tablelands are often drier and warmer than the air down in the valley, resulting in local inversions that hold cool moist air in the valley. For example, from 1 October 2001 through 28 February 2002, Agate's daily RAWS-recorded humidity reached 100% 40 nights, about 25% of the time, with most of the humidity in October and November.

Directions

By Plane
Nearest air service is available through Western Nebraska Regional Airport in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, approximately 50 miles southeast of the monument.

By Car
Access to region by automobile is possible via Interstates 80, 90 and 25, and various state highways and county roads.

Visitors traveling east-west on U.S. Highway 26, turn North on State Highway 29 at Mitchell, Nebraska. The park is 34 miles from Mitchell. Follow the National Park Service signs.

Visitors traveling on U.S. Highway 20, turn South on State Highway 29 at Harrison, Nebraska. The park is 22 miles from Harrison. Follow the National Park Service signs.

The park is also accessible via an unpaved 25 mile county road (River Road) from Marsland on Nebraska Highway 2.

Aside from River Road and the designated parking areas, visitors are not allowed to drive vehicles within the park boundaries. Vehicles driven by staff, adjacent landowners, and other individuals performing official business are allowed to drive inside the park on non-developed roads.

Operating Hours & Seasons

Visitor Center and Museum
Summer Season* - 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Off Season - 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Closed Christmas, New Years, and Thanksgiving.

Trails
Open from dawn until dusk year-round.

*Summer Season is Memorial Day through Labor Day

Fees & Reservations

 

- Individual - $3.00
(Valid for seven days, children under 16 free)
- Vehicle - $5.00
(Valid for seven days)
- Annual Park Pass - $15.00
(Valid for one year at Ft. Laramie, Scotts Bluff, and Agate Fossil Beds National Monument.)

Also sold, issued, and accepted:

  • Interagency Annual Pass

The $80 Interagency Annual Pass provides entrance or access to pass holder and accompanying passengers in a single, private non-commercial vehicle at most federal recreation sites across the country. Pass is valid for 12 months from date of purchase. The pass is not valid for Expanded Amenity fees.

  • Interagency Senior Pass

The $10 Interagency Senior Pass (62 and older) is a lifetime pass available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Pass is available only in-person at entrances or visitor centers.

  • Interagency Access Pass

Free lifetime pass available to citizens or permanent residents of the U.S. who have been determined to be blind or permanently disabled. Pass is available only in-person at entrances or visitor centers.

The above passes replace the National Parks Pass, Golden Eagle, Golden Age and Golden Access Passports. These passes will remain valid until they expire or are lost or stolen.

Agate Fossil Beds In a Nutshell

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument is nestled in the Niobrara River Valley in Nebraska 65 miles [110 km] east-southeast of its headwaters in the Hat Creek Breaks of Wyoming. The park preserves a unique unglaciated area of the High Plains. Wetlands stretch out from the river and meet terraces that lead to the breaks and buttes. The buttes contain important information about the life of mammals in the Miocene Era, some 20 million years ago.
 
During the Miocene the land now known as Agate was a grass savanna comparable to today’s Serengeti Plains in Africa. Twenty million years ago animals such as the Dinohyus (giant pig-like animal), Stenomylus (small gazelle-camel), and Menoceras (short rhinoceros) roamed the plains. There were also carnivorous beardogs wandering around, and the land beaver Paleocastor dug spiral burrows that remain as today’s trace fossils (Daemonelix) into the ancient riverbanks. There are remnants of the ancient grasses and hoofprints of prehistoric animals in Miocene sediments preserved in the park, as well as layers of fossilized bones.
 
The park was created to preserve the rich fossil deposits and their geological contexts amidst today’s natural ecosystem. Numerous mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and birds inhabit or pass through the park, undisturbed and protected. Many species of native grasses and shrubs grow across the park’s landscape, as well as some undesirable non-native plants (e.g., Canada thistle) that the park does its best to control. Use the links to the left to learn more about the geology, plants, animals, climate, and environment at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument.