Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
As proposed by the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument Association, Agate, Nebraska
NPS Logo


The principal Agate Springs Fossil Quarries are located on two isolated grass-covered hills which overlook the upper reaches of the Niobrara River in a scenic portion of the Great Plains. The quarries were cut into the sides of these hills whose summit elevations are approximately 200 feet higher than the picturesque Niobrara River. Only six to ten feet wide, the Niobrara winds lazily back and forth across a one-half mile flood plain. Elevations range from 4,400 to 4,700 feet, and the annual rainfall is about 16-18 inches. About a mile and one-half to the southeast of the main quarries is another quarry called the Stenomylus, and three miles to the northwest are the "Devil's Corkscrew" formations—casts of ancient beaver burrows.

Nebraska State Highway 29 a connection between Harrison (23 miles to the north) and Mitchell (34 miles to the south), crosses the Niobrara three miles west of the quarries.

Fifteen Million Years Ago in Western Nebraska. From an illustration by Erwin Christmas. Courtesy Natural History Magazine.

The Principal Agate Springs Fossil Quarries in 1950. Carnegie Hill to Right, University Hill to Left. Courtesy Dr. R. E. Lemley

The land is carpeted predominantly with grasses such as needle-and thread, Junegrass, Western wheatgrass, little bluestem, blue grama and buffalo grass, and with the blackroot sedge whose wiry roots hold the sandy soil together. Prairie flowers—lupine, prairie turnip, silverleaf psoralea, wild-alfalfa, Western wallflower, pentstemon and others—add color to the picturesque grassland setting. The small soapweed, a yucca, growing on the hillsides is particularly attractive in the spring when its greenish-white flowers blossom on stalks that rise conspicuously above its sword-like leaves. Clumps of willow along portions of the river and a few isolated groupings of cottonwood and willow trees add to the attractiveness of the scene, and supply nesting places for birds and shelter for animal life.

Field Party from the Carnegie Museum in 1908. Courtesy University of Nebraska State Museum

The Stenomylus Quarry in 1961

Just west of State Highway 29 along the Niobrara River is a lush oasis. It was here that Captain James H. Cook began operation of the Agate Springs Ranch in 1887. A system of irrigation ditches were developed and shade trees were planted. This is why such a lovely wooded spot now exists here in the middle of the short grass country of the Great Plains. Here flow natural springs near rock formations containing agates. From this combination of natural features the ranch acquired its name, "Agate Springs." This cattle ranch has been an important operation all these years and is presently owned by the heirs of the late Dr. Harold Cook.

Dr. Cook's widow, Mrs. Margaret C. Cook, who resides at the ranch, is continuing the Cook family tradition of hospitality for which the early West was famous.

Headquarters of the Agate Springs Ranch nestled among the trees to the left off State Highway 29. Courtesy Dr. R. E. Lemley

<<< Previous <<< Contents>>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 12-Nov-2010