Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument

Last month, the Other Half and I decided to take some time off for a road trip. We planned to spend several days in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, but our plans changed due to the need to bring our dog with us. I know, I know, it’s the opposite of what most people do: plan to bring their dog and then, after doing their research, decide to leave the dog at home or at a kennel. Instead, we changed our trip to accommodate his presence in the car.

Despite the Other Half’s insistence that he would NEVER AGAIN get up several hours before sunrise so I could drive him around the countryside, he dutifully piled into the car at 4:00 in the morning for the drive to Hagerman, Idaho. Really, I couldn’t ask for a better partner than that guy.

The first thing we saw as the sun peeked over the gorge was a large group of bighorn sheep right on the side of the highway. Little did we know that it was setting the stage for our day. When I was a kid, my mom used to take me and my siblings on road trips to see family, national parks, historic sites, all kinds of cool things I’m sure I should have appreciated more than I did at the time. One thing I did pick up from her travel style, though: stopping at amusing historical sites.

For instance, when you enter the town of Hagerman, a sign which merely says ‘historic site’ points to a roadside monument. On closer inspection, the monument is a Conestoga wagon next to a flock of bronze sheep and a cowboy.

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While the monument itself was a worthwhile and amusing stop, the hilarity of the dog thinking that the monument’s bronze sheepdog and horse were real provided endless entertainment. Yes, he did, in fact, try to introduce himself to a statue. Can’t say I haven’t been there before…

Anyway, the fossil beds monument’s visitor center is just down the road from the sheep statue, though the monument itself is a 20-minute drive and a river crossing away from the town of Hagerman. The visitor’s center is worth the stop just to see the fossil replicas, including that of the Hagerman horse, Equus simplicidens. To our surprise, there was also a small exhibit detailing the history of the Minidoka National Historic Site, which is dedicated to the many Japanese-Americans who were forced to relocate to the Minidoka internment camp after the attack on Pearl Harbor in World War II. It also helped that the ranger at the visitor center was very friendly and willing to answer questions. Really, it seemed like no one drops by mid-afternoon on a Saturday to look at the fossils and historic cultural sites. This should change. Who doesn’t want to see giant sloths, North American camels, or large river otters?

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After a brief stop, we continued on our way to the monument proper. The monument does not allow dogs on the trails, so we planned to stop at a few of the overlooks for a snack and a break before heading on our way. The first place we stopped was just across the Snake River, at the historic Owlsey Bridge, which was built in the 1920s and recently became listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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There are several opportunities along the road to look over the bluffs of the Snake River, most of which are extremely windy. Despite our short trip and confinement to the road, we were very happy with the area. We were also surprised with the migrants we saw, including white-faced ibis, western grebe, and yellow-headed blackbird, in addition to some of the residents like coots and California quail.

There is also an overlook of the historic Oregon Trail, complete with old wagon ruts from the wagons crossing the area. They are supposedly marked by white poles, but we didn’t see any. Maybe 150 years of erosion finally got the better of the muddy remnants of westward migration.

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