Walking into the visitor center at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument is stepping back some 20 million years ago when this was the home of Miocene mammals. Dinohyus, a terrible pig-like creature; Moropus, strange-looking relative of the horse; Menoceras, 3 foot tall rhino; Daphoenodon or Beardog that lived in a den; Stenomylus, 2 foot tall camel and the Palaeocastor, an ancient land-loving beaver; all lived and died here. Many perished at a waterhole during a drought that depleted all vegetation and created a bonebed of fossils. The fossils were discovered by James Cook, the man who eventually bought the Agate Springs Ranch. He invited paleontologists to the area in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s to unearth the fossils and put together the story of what happened here. The exhibits in the visitor center show examples of these fossils and the current theories about why they were found in such a massive bonebed.
Not only do you learn about the fossils, but also about the American Indians that lived in the area. Meet Red Cloud, a leader of the Oglala Lakota Sioux, who was a friend of James Cook and gave him many gifts. Many of these gifts are decorated with beads and quillwork (quills from the porcupine were used to make beautiful designs). On several weekends in the summer, Native American artists work on their crafts in the visitor center and love to tell the story of their culture.