Nature

Nature and Science
Looking south from Fossil Gulch

NPS Photo

Known mostly for its fossils from the late Pliocene epoch Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument contains one of the world’s richest known deposits of fossil horses, Equus simplicidens, thought to be a link between prehistoric and modern horses.

In 1988, the Hagerman horse became Idaho’s state fossil and Hagerman Fossil Beds became a national monument. The Monument contains the Hagerman Horse Quarry, a national natural landmark, recognized as one of the six most important sites in the world regarding the fossil history of horses.

Hagerman Fossil Beds is nationally and internationally significant for its world-class paleontological resources. It includes the world’s richest fossil deposits, in quality, quantity, and diversity from the late Pliocene epoch. Many of its fossils represent the last vestiges of species that existed before the last Ice Age, the Pleistocene, and the earliest ‘modern’ flora and fauna.

The Monument’s paleontological resources are contained in a continuous, undisturbed stratigraphic record spanning at least 500,000 years. The fossils deposited here appear to represent an entire paleontological ecosystem with a variety of habitats such as wetland, riparian, and grassland savanna.

Most of the fossils contained in the park are not obvious. There are no hikes or observation areas to see the fossils in place. A sampling of excavated fossils is displayed in the park visitor center, while the other fossils (most of small size and limited scope) are studied under laboratory conditions not currently visible to park visitors. It is in the long term plans for the park to make the laboratory work and procedures more accessible to everyone.

The Monument is also one of four National Park system units containing a portion of the Oregon Trail National Historic Trail. Ruts from the wagons that used the Trail are visible from one of the marked lookout points inside the park grounds.

 
artist's view of Hagerman during the Pliocene Epoch
This mural was created to highlight the diversity of life in the Hagerman area during the Pliocene Epoch

Copyright Protected Jay Matternes Mural

An artist rendition of the ecosystem when the Hagerman Fossil Beds were deposited during the Pliocene Epoch shows the variety of plants, animals, and geographic features of the area. A fluvial (river) and floodplain environment around the edge of ancient Lake Idaho deposited layers of sand, silt, and clay at least 600 feet thick. Layers of sediments have preserved an exquisite world class assemblage of Pliocene fossils.

The Smithsonian Institution directed fossil excavations in the early 1930s and many other museums and research institutions have conducted studies here ever since.

 

You can learn more about the animal fossils found in the park by visiting the animals page. Don't forget to look for new discoveries as the park fossil collection is reexamined and analyzed in greater detail.

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 570
Hagerman, ID 83332

Phone:

(208) 933-4105
Weekday and weekend hours are 9 am - 5 pm. Please leave a message and a Ranger will return your call as soon as possible.

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