The first visitors who came here in the late 1800’s must have felt they were traveling through a land of giant rocky mushrooms. They fancifully labeled the sandstone slabs resting on their clay pillars, ‘toadstools’. A toadstool looks like a ‘hoodoo’.
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 intrigued us, so we went the next day in our truck. We headed out of Fort Robinson State Park Campground in Crawford, Nebraska. We drove Route 20 North for about 20 miles and turned left onto a long dirt/gravel road that led us to Toadstool. There was a brown marker sign showing the way. 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. Its called the Nebraska Badlands because it’s geological structures resemble the Badlands National Park up in South Dakota.
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”.
How are Toadstools created?
They are created by forces of the wind and water that eroded the soft clay faster than the hard sandstone rock that capped it. Erosion eventually collapsed the giant toadstools while new ones are formed.
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.
Turn the clock back 30 million years and we’d be seeing miniature horses, humpless camels, giant tortoises, pigs and even rhinos roaming these barren lands. 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 hike, 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? 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.
Exploring and hiking…
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.
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 Kodak moment. We touched, we smelled and we got to experience such great hidden treasure.
A small primitive camping area was situated at the entrance which would be great for the lone camper or small boondocking RV. The small park had two individual compost toilet shacks maintained by the National Forest and Grasslands District. There was also an informational kiosk that told the geological story.
There was also a replica of a sod house which gave an idea of what human habitats looked like back then. We went in and noticed it was 10-15 degrees cooler.
Because this park is ‘out of the way’, we were lucky to have such wonderous place all to ourselves. Seriously, it’s so far out that you can only see a tiny part from the main road. If it weren’t for the small brown landmark signs, no one would know it was there.
It was a great shorter day of hiking and exploring. It was our first encounter of what badlands looked like and what they were comprised of. This is the kind of place we most enjoy; no noise and less people.