Ashfall Fossil Beds – Royal, Nebraska - Atlas Obscura
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Royal, Nebraska

Ashfall Fossil Beds

When an ancient supervolcano erupted, some of Nebraska's prehistoric animals were forever preserved in ash. 

This park offers a magnificent glimpse into prehistoric Nebraska. The area is filled with the well-preserved fossils of dozens of species from 12 million years ago.

When an ancient volcano in southwest Idaho erupted, it spread ash across the region. Most of the animals survived the ashfall, but continued to graze on plants covered in ash. This eventually destroyed the animals’ lungs, causing them to die. Rhinos, multiple species of ancient equines, small camels, and even turtles and birds, met their dooms at this ancient watering hole. Once they perished, their bodies were swept over by the very ash that killed them, preserving their remains.

Today, the Ashfall Fossil Beds teaches visitors about our ancient past and the creatures that once called Nebraska home. Scientists on staff provide insights, and sometimes even offer a sample of the glass-laden ash that killed these animals for curious visitors to touch and hold. 

In addition to the visitor’s center and rhino barn, there are also two trails that let you hike out onto the plains and see the other wildlife in the area. 

Know Before You Go

Bring good hiking shoes, water, and sunscreen, as you will be outside quite a bit and it's often very dry. You can bring a picnic lunch or indulge in some awesome pie at Green Gables, about five miles north of the park. A parking permit must be purchased at the visitor's center. There is also a nominal entry fee.

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