Nebraska is a terrific state for rockhounding. Although Nebraska lacks the mineral and mining history of the famous mining and mineral states and has a less extensive variety of rocks, gemstones, and minerals, the state has a tremendous fossil legacy including significant numbers of mammoth and mastodon fossils as well as earlier mammal fossils. In addition, for those who also explore the old trails that brought the pioneers west (yes, my parents march me through the sagebrush to show me ‘how good I have it’ because I didn’t walk … sometimes barefoot … across the prairies and mountains to build a better life), there are very famous geologic formations that served as landmarks for the pioneers … well before the days of GPS.
State Rocks, Gemstones, Minerals, Fossils, & Dinosaurs
Rockhounding Tip: Knowing state rocks, gemstones, minerals, fossils, and dinosaurs often can be very useful information for rockhounders. Ordinarily, states with significant mineral deposits, valuable gemstones, fossils, or unusual or significant rock occurrences will designate an official state mineral, rock/stone, gemstone, fossil, or dinosaur to promote interest in the state’s natural resources, history, tourism, etc. Accordingly, such state symbols often are a valuable clue as to potential worthwhile rockhounding opportunities.
State Rock: Prairie Agate (1967)
Nebraska designated the chalcendony stone commonly known as prairie agate as its official state rock in 1967 (on the state’s 100th anniversary). Nebraska has an abundance of agate, especially around the Oglala National Grassland in northwest Nebraska. Prairie agate is not native to Nebraska. It formed in sedimentary rocks in Wyoming and South Dakota and subsequently eroded from these deposits and was carried into Nebraska by streams.
State Gemstone: Blue Chalcedony
Nebraska designated the chalcedony stone commonly known as blue agate as its official state gemstone in 1967 (on the state’s 100th anniversary). Blue chalcedony, commonly called blue agate, sometimes has a dark internal form with bands of blue and white and often has a colorless streak. Blue agates can be found in northwestern Nebraska, where it formed in wind-blown silt and claystone deposited in the Chadron Formation of Oligocene Age.
Fossil: Mammoth (1967)
Nebraska designated the mammoth as its official state fossil in 1967 (on the state’s 100th anniversary). Three species of mammoth have been found in Nebraska: the woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius), the Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi), and the Imperial mammoth (Mammuthus imperator). These large elephants are known from Pleistocene Epoch sediments, at a time between 1.6 million years and 10,000 years ago when Nebraska was at the southern edge of the large glaciers that covered northern North America. Vast prairies dotted with lakes developed near the ice sheets, providing an ideal grassy habitat for these large grazing creatures, as well as for bison, beavers, prairie dogs, and condors. At the close of the Pleistocene, 10,000 years ago, all of the mammoths went extinct. Mammoth fossils have been found in all 93 of Nebraska's counties. The most famous discovery in the state was a fifteen ton, fourteen foot high specimen of the Imperial mammoth found in Lincoln County in 1922. This specimen – the largest in the world – now resides at the University of Nebraska State Museum, and a bronze statue of it was installed on the university's campus in 1998. The best mammoth remains are usually found in the western part of the state, frequently near major rivers, among them the Missouri, Platte, and Niobrara.
State-specific rockhounding books (including the books listed here as well as other books), regional rockhounding site guides, and other helpful rockhounding resources are identified - by category - in the Books & Gear section of Gator Girl Rocks with a link to the Gator Girl Rocks Amazon Store where you may easily browse selected resources and securely place an order. Your order will benefit Charity Rocks!
Nebraska Geological Survey
The website includes information specifically for rockhounders and hobbyists.
The Fossil Freeway is a useful website for Nebraska and South Dakota that identifies some of the rich fossil areas between Nebraska's Panhandle and The Black Hills in South Dakota.
- Harmon D. Maher, Jr., George F. Engelmann, & Robert D. Shuster, Roadside Geology of Nebraska (2002).
- June Culp Zeitner, Midwest Gem, Fossil, & Mineral Trails: Prairie States (Rev. ed., 1998 - first published in 1955).
- June Culp Zeitner, Midwest Gem Trails: Field Guide for the Gem Hunter, the Mineral Collector, and the Tourist (3d. Rev. ed., 1964 - originally published in 1956).
- Allan W. Eckert, Earth Treasures Vol. 3 - Northwestern Quadrant (1986; reprint in 2000).
- James Martin Monaco & Jeannette Hathway Monaco, Fee Mining & Rockhounding Adventures in the West (2d ed. 2007).
- Kathy J. Rygle & Stephen F. Pedersen, Northwest Treasure Hunter's Gem & Mineral Guide (4th ed. 2008).
Museums of Interest to Rockhounders
University of Nebraska State Museum
The museum’s exhibits include rocks, minerals, and fossils. Nebraska has a rich fossil history and the museum’s collection includes over a million fossil specimens from all over Nebraska, including a fantastic display of mammoth skeletons.
The museum exhibits an extensive collection of rocks and minerals, including samples from around the world, Nebraska agates, and florescent minerals. In addition, the museum exhibits fossils from the Cambrian Seas to Ice Age Mammals, including a mammoth tusk, prehistoric bison skulls, giant sloth bones, and mastodon teeth. It’s all the types of fossils you can find in Nebraska, and specimens date back 500 million years.
Trailside Museum of Natural History
Fort Robinson State Park – West of Crawford, Nebraska
The museum includes a very unique exhibit that features the fossils of two large bull mammoths whose tusks locked together during an Ice Age battle for dominance. Unable to separate or rise, they died where they fell and remained undisturbed for over 10,000 years.
Eleanor Barbour Cook Museum of Geology
Chadron State College – Chardon, Nebraska
The museum exhibits rocks, minerals, and fossils from Nebraska and around the world.
Places to Visit - Interesting Sites To See
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
Near Harrison, Nebraska
The Agate Fossil Beds National Monument was established in 1997. The site is best known for the large number of well-preserved Miocene fossils, many of which were found at dig sites on Carnegie and University Hills. Fossils from the site, which date from about twenty million years ago, are among some of the best specimens of Miocene mammals. Species found at Agate include: Miohippus (ancestor of the modern horse); Menoceras (a pony-sized rhinoceros); Amphicyon (a bear dog); Daeodon (the largest entelodont – a giant pig-like ungulate); Stenomylus (a gazelle-like camelid); and Palaeocastor (land beavers that dug large corkscrew-shaped burrows – sometimes called ‘Devil’s corkscrews’).
Scotts Bluff National Monument
Near Gering, Nebraska
Scotts Bluff towers eight hundred feet above the North Platte River and served as a natural landmark for those on the Oregon, California, Mormon, and Pony Express Trails. The north face of Scotts Bluff shows more geological history than any other place in Nebraska.
Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park
Antelope County, Nebraska
The Ashfall Fossil Beds are especially famous for mammal fossils from the middle Miocene. About twelve million years ago, a volcano in southwest Idaho (Bruneau-Jarbidge super volcano eruption) spread a blanket of ash over a very large area. One or two feet of this powdered glass covered the flat savannah-like grasslands of northeastern Nebraska about 1,000 miles east of the volcano. The Ashfall deposit preserves the fossilized remains of ancient animals that perished in the dense volcanic ashfall. The animals had come to a waterhole. A large number of very well preserved fossil rhinos, small three-toes horses, camels, and birds have been excavated.
Chimney Rock National Historic Site
Morrill County, Nebraska
Chimney Rock is a prominent rock formation in western Nebraska that is visible for miles. In the 1800s, Chimney Rock functioned as a landmark along the Oregon California, and Mormon Trails. Chimney Rock rises approximately 286 feet above its surroundings. The pillar consists primarily of Brule clay interlayered with volcanic ash and Arikaree sandstone. The harder sandstone layers near the top have protected the pillar since it broke away from the retreating cliff line to the south.
Toadstool Geologic Park
Toadstool Geologic Park, located in the Nebraska National Forest in Northwestern Nebraska, gets its name from the bulky sandstone blocks balanced on seemingly impossibly narrow pedestals of sediment seen throughout the area. The sandstone blocks, many of which still bear tracks of extinct animals, are remnants from a river that flowed through the area over thirty million years ago, and subsequent weathering has broken the sandstone down into blocks. Wind and streams between 45 to 26 million years ago deposited the rocks giving Toadstool its moonscape appearance.
Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area
South of Gering, Nebraska
The Nature Center exhibits a twenty-five million year old fossil discovered in the Nebraska panhandle in 1932 by renowned paleontologist Loren Eiseley. The fossil exhibit includes a fossil of two saber-tooth cats with one cat’s canine tooth is embedded in the other cat’s shoulder blade. Paleontologists working at the nearby Millennium’s End Quarry (discovered in 1999) have uncovered a wealth of small mammal fossils.
Rockhounding Sites for Children & Families
Fairburn, Prairie, and Nebraska Blue Agates occur in northwest Nebraska. Subject to certain restrictions, recreational rockhounders are permitted to collect agates – for personal use (not commercial) – on the Oglala National Grasslands managed by the U.S. Forest Service.