Agate Fossil Beds National Monument Science Activities

“Look at the bug dance!” a young boy exclaimed, marveling at a solar-powered bug under an incandescent light before observing its inactivity under a fluorescent light, unknowingly exploring the concept of infrared energy.

“Did you catch that? What did I just say?” the Walton Family members asked each other, taking turns with an experiment involving “big ears”. They discovered how some animals, such as dogs with funnel-shaped ears, can detect distant sounds. Their ears, acting like a lens that focuses light, help them hear in a way the Walton family experienced as a newfound superpower for a day.

These intriguing lessons were delivered by Merle “Misty” Brave and Jesse Pina, professors from Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. They presented their Little Shop of Physics at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in celebration of Science Education Day last Saturday, March 16th.

Returning for a second year, the duo engaged visitors with science at the monument through the Little Shop of Physics, a program originally developed by Colorado State University, Fort Collins. Brian Jones, the founder of the CSU program, collaborated with the OLC professors over a decade ago to establish their version, maintaining that science should be seen as accessible, exciting, and engaging.

Agate Fossil Beds & Oglala Lakota Tribe Relationship

“The longstanding relationship between Agate Fossil Beds and the Oglala Lakota tribe predates the establishment of the monument,” explained Tera Lynn Gray, Lead Interpretive Ranger. She recounted the historical encounter in 1875 between James H. Cook, the young ranch owner, and Oglala chief Red Cloud at Fort Robinson, facilitated by Cook’s knowledge of the Lakota language and Plains Indian Sign Language.

Today, the National Park Service continues to preserve and share the history of the gifts exchanged between the Red Cloud and Cook families, alongside the fossils discovered by Cook, at the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, situated 34 miles north of Mitchell, Nebraska.

“This event is part of Agate’s ongoing efforts to nurture and enhance the historic bond initiated by Cook and Red Cloud,” Gray remarked.

Agate Fossil Beds is looking forward to hosting a series of other engaging, free events this summer. More information about these events can be found on the park’s website.

Located 34 miles north of Mitchell, NE, or 22 miles south of Harrison, NE on Highway 29 and 3 miles east on River Rd, Agate Fossil Beds National Monument invites visitors from dawn until dusk to explore its trails, with the Visitor Center open from 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. during winter hours.

Disclaimer: This above news story is based on a press release from the National Park Service, which was issued on March 21, 2024. You can read the original release here.

So, What is so Special About Agate Fossil Beds National Monument?

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, nestled 34 miles north of Mitchell, Nebraska, is a unique blend of natural history and cultural heritage. This site, famous for its well-preserved Miocene fossils, offers a window into the ancient ecosystems that thrived over 20 million years ago. However, what sets Agate apart is not just its paleontological significance but its deep-rooted connection and collaboration with the local community, particularly the Oglala Lakota Tribe.

At the heart of Agate Fossil Beds is a story of friendship and mutual respect between the monument’s founders and the Native American communities. The legacy of these relationships is preserved through the exchange of gifts between James H. Cook, the original owner of Agate Springs Ranch, and Red Cloud, a prominent Oglala Lakota chief. This historical bond is showcased in the monument’s museum, which houses an impressive collection of Native American artifacts, symbolizing centuries of cultural exchange and understanding.

Agate Fossil Beds actively works to maintain and nurture its connection with the community by hosting educational and cultural events throughout the year. These events are designed to be inclusive, engaging participants from diverse backgrounds in activities that celebrate both the scientific importance of the site and its cultural significance. By collaborating with local educators, tribal leaders, and scientists, the monument offers a dynamic learning environment where visitors can explore the intersection of natural history and indigenous culture.

Through its ongoing community engagement efforts, Agate Fossil Beds National Monument serves as a model for how natural sites can play a crucial role in fostering community relationships, promoting cultural appreciation, and providing educational opportunities. It stands as a testament to the power of collaboration and mutual respect in preserving the rich tapestry of America’s natural and cultural heritage.

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Feature image: nps.gov

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