Toadstool Geologic Park –This is in NEBRASKA??
On a warm, early August day in 2015, we visited Toadstool Geological Park
. Seeing the brown touristy signs intrigued us the day before on a motorcycle ride, so we went the next day in our truck. We headed out of Fort Robinston in Crawford, Nebraska
on Route 20 for about 20 miles to a seemingly long dirt/gravel road that led us to Toadstool. Once we got there, the view was breathtaking.
Its sand barren hills and rock-strewn gullies disguise the abundant life it once supported. We felt like we landed on the moon. Never, for a million years, did think we would ever see anything like this in the Corn Husker state of ‘Nebraska’! Gone were the rows to miles of corn rows. As Dorothy said to Toto in the Wizard of Oz, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore Toto”. In this case, it’s Nebraska.
Turn the clock back 30 million years and you would find miniature horses, humpless camels, giant tortoises, pigs and even rhinos roaming these barren lands. Though hikers can’t see them, Scientist have pieced clues together to capture what life was like in this ancient river valley millions of years ago. Over time, river water invited habitants to live here.
The water current carried volcanic debris that, layer upon later, formed rocks we see today. Over time, water and wind sculpted the rock into badlands. These geological processes preserved, and erosion exposed the record of North America’s early Great Plains animals.
During our few-hour stay, we were visited by a bunch of small amphibious toads (there were small rock pools from a previous rain), a rabbit, very few birds and remnants of dead small rodents. What killed them, we will never know but I’m sure what lurks inside the crevices and holes was waiting for us to leave so they could snatch it up for their mid-day snack.
We followed the trail markers along the mile-long loop trail to unravel the park’s mysteries. The first quarter mile of the trail is easily accessible. Beyond that, the trail winds along stream beds, through gullies and over sandstone rock. Toadstools and trackways awaited our every turn and climb.
It’s a good thing we both were prepared on this hot summer day for such adventure; wearing good treaded shoes, at least a ‘little’ physically fit, healthy trail snacks and plenty of water (we each went through 3-4 bottles of water!).
Why is it called Toadstool?
The first visitors here in the late 1800’s (post-Civil War) must have felt they were traveling through a land of giant rocky mushrooms. They fancifully labeled the jumble of sandstone slabs resting on their clay pillars, ‘toadstools’. Toadstools are created by forces of the wind and water, eroding the soft clay faster than the hard sandstone rock that caps it. Erosion eventually collapses the giant toadstools and new ones are forming.
Over time, rushing water has cut away the underside of this cliff. When the bank is undercut enough, the weight of the overhead mass breaks off in large chunks, crashing into the streambed and diverting the stream flows. These badlands erode away at an average of an inch per year.
While navigating on foot, we found the walking surfaces to be very sandy and silty; reason for wearing good treaded footwear. We had to do a bit of climbing to stay on the trails. This type of hiking is not for young children or elderly as one wrong step could slip into a serious injury or fall.
There were several small cliffs that offered us a minute to take in the view and grab some great photos. Around every bend of the trail offered us a new view. We touched, we smelled and we got to experience such great hidden treasure.
There was a small primitive camping venue at the entrance which would be great for the lone camper or small boondocking RV wanting to camp near something ‘different’. The small park had two individual compost toilet shacks provided by the National Forest and Grasslands district. There was also a replica of a sod house which gave an idea of what folks back in the day lived in. We went in and noticed it was a good 10-15 degrees cooler.
What was odd was we and only two other couples were the only ones there. It was awesome having wonderous place like this all to ourselves and not worrying about others getting into your photography shots or interrupting this incredible experience with noise.
We think because of its location off the beaten path and the long dirt road leading to it is what keeps people away. Seriously, you can only see a tiny part from the main road so. If it weren’t for the small brown landmark signs, no one would know it was there. The best kept secrets of America’s past and history are the hidden ones and not well advertised. We are grateful we found this one.