Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument

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Quick Overview

This is the audio-only described version of Hagerman Fossil Bed National Monument’s official brochure. Its format consists of a two-sided brochure with six accordion folded panels. There is a combination of text, contemporary and historic photographs and illustrations. The first side provides information about the fossils found here as well as two time lines to help orientate us to where the Hagerman fossils are in time. The second side presents information about the Oregon Trail, Hagerman today and a map.

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A View of the Hagerman Fossil Beds

Color photo description: Taken from above, this is an aerial view of the eastern edge of the monument as it slopes down to the Snake River. The blue sky and sunny rays illuminate the sagebrush covered monument as it undulates gracefully north and west into the distance. The sandy edges of the horizontal bluffs slump off in spots exposing the layers of sediment deposited during the Pliocene epoch. The dark bluish river water reflects the varied colors of yellow, tan, and green, brown and red that run through the layers.

Photo credit: National Park Service 

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IMAGES: Hagerman Horse Fossils

Description: Three different views of the Hagerman Horse fossil are displayed on the left side of side one. Each has a sepia-toned, off-white color. Their descriptions and associated text follow.

  1. Artifact caption: Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, in Idaho, is most famous for the Hagerman Horse, which is also the state fossil. The monument is significant for its variety, quantity, and quality of animal and plant fossils. Artifact description: This image shows a Hagerman Horse skull. The picture angle is from above looking down onto the top portion of the skull. This view shows the eye sockets, upper jaw area, and the elongated nose. The skull shows cracks, sediment, and missing pieces as one would expect for its age. Photo credit: Smithsonian Institution
  2. Artifact caption: Hagerman Fossil Beds has produced 20 complete skeletons of Equus simplicidens, the Hagerman Horse. Artifact description: A skeleton of the entire Hagerman Horse is presented. It's larger skull sits on top of a neck that is the same length as the length of the skull from front to back. The animal’s multi-rib torso section is barrel-like and makes up most of the entire midsection of its body. It stands passively on all four legs, each with multiple joints and a hoof at the bottom. Photo credit: National Park Service
  3. Artifact caption: The Hagerman Horse probably is more closely related to Grevy’s zebra than the horse. Scientists conclude this because its skull (pictured) looks very much like a zebra’s. Scientists also speculate the Hagerman Horse may have had stripes. Artifact description: This image is a Hagerman Horse fossil skull in profile. The fossil is only partially cleaned of its surrounding sediment. Visible is its right side eye socket, nasal bone, molars and front teeth. Below and in the back of the eye socket is a distinct square block jaw. In front of the eye socket, its nose extends far out. Its teeth are in front of and below the eye socket and make up the middle section of the side profile of the skull. The nostril area extends a good deal past its teeth. Photo credit: Smithsonian Institution

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IMAGES and TEXT: what the Scientists Found Here

Description: Two images precede text in this section on side one of the brochure. These images are described first and the text follows.

  1. Caption: Paleontologists admire one of the quarry’s fossils in 1934.  Photo description: A sepia-toned historic photograph is of Smithsonian paleontologists who excavated the Hagerman Horse Quarry. Four men surround a large, tire-sized fossil found in the horse quarry. A bearded man in overalls squats next to the fossil while another man points to it. Two more men stand to the side. The men wear glasses, hats and work boots. 
  2. Artifact descriptions: Photos of three tools paleontologists frequently use during the excavation of fossils. Two of these tools are right next to the photo of the paleontologist. The third tool is further right in the brochure. The tools are a pointed trowel with a wooden handle. A small wooden brush about an inch wide with white bristles and a long handle. A metal pick with a black colored handle. Photo credit: National Park Service

Text: No other fossil beds preserve such varied land and aquatic species from the time period called the Pliocene Epoch. Over 200 species of plants and animals have been found at hundreds of sites in this park. Eight species are found only here, and 43 were found here first. The Hagerman horse, Equus simplicidens, typifies the fossil quality. Complete and partial skeletons of this zebra-like ancestor of today’s horse have come from these fossil beds. Paleontologists from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, made the first scientific excavations here in 1929. Local rancher Elmer Cook had shown the fossil beds to a government geologist, Dr. Harold Stearns. During the 1930s, the Smithsonian scientists excavated 120 horse skulls and 20 complete skeletons from an area now called the Horse Quarry. The Smith¬son¬¬ian exchanged some Hagerman horse skeletons with other museums, resulting in their display around the world. Other museums, universities, and the National Park Service have now done work here. Over 200 scientific papers now focus on the Hagerman fossil species.

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TEXT and IMAGE: Clues in the Landscape

Text: Bluffs that contain Hagerman Fossil Beds rise 600 feet above the Snake River. They reveal the environment at the end of the Pliocene Epoch. Grassy plains with ponds and forest stands then received over twice today’s 7–10 inches of annual precipitation. Saber-toothed cats, mastodons, camels, ground sloths, hyena-like dogs, beavers, muskrats, otters, antelope, deer, fish, frogs, snakes, and waterfowl lived then. Sediment layers from the river to bluff tops span 550,000 years: 3.7 million years old at river level to 3.15 million years atop the bluff. The layers were deposited when rivers flowing into ancient Lake Idaho flooded the area. The Bonneville Flood 15,000 years ago carved the high bluffs, exposing the layers and fossils. It also deposited fields of melon gravel—lava boulders the size of watermelons and larger—from today’s river level to gravel bars 225 feet higher. Sediments include river sands, shale deposited in ponds, clay from floods, and volcanic deposits like ash and basalt. Radioactive elements in volcanic ashes are used to determine a fossil’s age.

Photo caption: The fossils occur in layered beds exposed in cliffs above the Snake River. Photo description: This view of the monument from across the river shows almost vertical sections of sandy bluffs that rise above the Snake River in different shades of brown and tan. Portions of horizontal bed layers are prominently protruding out of piles of loose sediment. The river gently flows beneath and sage brush grows along the banks. Photo credit: National Park Service

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TEXT and ILLUSTRATION: adapt, Migrate, or Become Extinct

Text: As significant environmental change happens, most plants and animals will have three options: adapt, migrate, or become extinct. The ancient ecosystem of Hagerman’s fossil plants and animals shows each response as the area changed from a wetter grassland savanna to today’s drier high-desert conditions. Hagerman Fossil Beds is one of the few sites that preserve enough variety and quantity of fossil evidence to study past climates and ancient ecosystems. Fossil studies also add to research on biodiversity, wetlands ecology, and evolutionary patterns.

Illustration caption: In Pliocene times the climate was more wet here and vegetation far more lush. 

Illustration description: A portion of an original Jay Matternas’s painted color mural, from the Smithsonian, displays the Hagerman area as it might have looked during the Pliocene epoch. A lush landscape with a wide river that takes up most of the image runs diagonally through the image. Plenty of green vegetation is along the banks. Lily pads float on the calm waters. Animals are plentiful and active along the banks. A herd of Hagerman horses wade into the river to drink. They are painted with stripes since they are close in anatomy to the Grevy’s Zebra. Two giant sloths bumble along the west side of the river and the left side of the painting. Unlike the sloths we see today, they are large, muscular and walk on all fours on the ground. Ducks, geese, grebes, and pelicans swim and bathe in the river. A herd of wild peccaries, which is a medium-sized mammal, walk in the foreground as a baby peccary hides behind its mother. A beaver has dammed the river in the background and in it a herd of mastodons, an early type of elephant, bathe in the water. One mastodon lies on its side and two mastodons have their trunks intertwined. A group of llamas walk on the right side of the river further in the background. The scene is topped by green trees with brown, purple and green mountains against a cloudy light blue sky. 

Illustration credit: Smithsonian Institution, Jay H. Matternes 

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ILLUSTRATION: the Destiny of Three Species

Description: Illustration color drawings of three animals are displayed on the right side of side one of the brochure to the left of a timeline for the epochs within the Cenozoic period. Descriptions and their associated text follow.

  1. Illustration caption: Adapted - Beavers that lived here in Pliocene times adapted to change, and their descendants live here today. Muskrat and many birds also adapted. Illustration description: A modern flat tailed beaver has shiny brown fur. His powerful black tail is flat and looks like the head of an oval paddle. Illustration credit: National Geographic
  2. Illustration caption: Migrated - Horses migrated to Eurasia when habitat conditions changed here. Camels also migrated to Eurasia. Llamas migrated to South America. Illustration description: The image depicts what a Hagerman horse may have looked like. The drawing shows the horse running with its ears back and teeth bared. It sports a barrel-like body with vertical black stripes down its hind quarters. Its legs are short and it has small hoofs. It features a short black mane and tail. Its face is portrayed as zebra shaped. Illustration credit: National Park Service / Karen Barnes
  3. Illustration caption: Became Extinct - Mastodons were not able to adapt or migrate, so they died out. Ground sloths, hyena-like dogs, and saber-toothed cats also became extinct. Illustration description: A stoic-looking Mastodon is portrayed. It is an early species of the elephant family and has long white tusks. It has short thick brown fur, a sloping back, large ears, and a short tail. Illustration credit: National Park Service / Karen Barnes

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TEXT: a Timeline: Millions of Years Ago

Description: The fossil record of the earth goes back hundreds of million years. Fossils found at Hagerman are considered to be geologically recent at about 4 to 3 million years ago (m y a). To help display that concept, a time line runs across the top of side one of the brochure showing time from the Paleozoic (590 million years ago) through to the Cenozoic (present time).

Down the right side of side one are the individual epochs of the Cenozoic along with some brief information about each. 

Text covering the grand sweep of time and then the Cenozoic period are each under the own heading.

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TEXT: the Three Major Geologic Eras

Paleozoic Era includes: 

Cambrian 590 million years ago, Ordovician 505 million years ago, Silurian 438 million years ago, Devonian 408 million years ago, Carboniferous 320 million years ago and Permian 286 million years ago.

Mesozoic Era includes:

Triassic 248 million years ago, Jurassic 213 million years ago and Cretaceous 144 million years ago.

Cenozoic Era includes: 

Paleocene 65 million years ago, Eocene 55 million years ago, Oligocene 38 million years ago, Miocene 23 to 5.3 million years ago, Pliocene 5.3 to  2.6 million years ago, Pleistocene 2.6 million years ago to 11,700 BP (before present) and Holocene 11,700 BP to present.

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TEXT: Epochs of the Cenozoic


11,700 Before Present (B P) to present. Horses reintroduced into North America by Spanish in the fifteen hundreds. Extinction of North American megafauna, including horses 13000 to 10000 BP. 


2.6 million years ago to 11,700 BP. Bonneville Flood 15,000 BP. Damming of Snake River by McKinney Butte Basalt 50,000 BP. Immigration of bison into North America from Eurasia 400,000 BP. Lake Idaho drains 1.7 million years ago. Immigration of mammoth into North America from Eurasia 1.8 to 1.6 million years ago. 


5.3 to 2.6 million years ago. First appearance of modern horse (Equus) at Hagerman 3.2 million years ago. Volcanic eruption at Yellowstone deposits Peters Gulch Ash at Hagerman 3.9 million years ago. Ancestral Snake River begins depositing sediments at Hagerman 4.3 million years ago. First appearance of modern beaver (Castor) 4.8 million years ago. 


23 to 5.3 million years ago. Banbury Basalt forms floor of what is now the Hagerman Valley 8–11 million years ago. Bruneau-Jarbidge eruption southwest of Hagerman deposits ash as far east as Nebraska 11 million years ago. Gomphotheres (early elephants) immigrate into North America from Eurasia 14.5 million years ago. 


38 million years ago. Volcanism in the Challis area begins 51 million years ago. 


55 million years ago. First horse (Hyracotherium) 57.5 million years ago. 


65 million years ago. Extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Earlier than this there is a gap in the record. 

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TEXT and IMAGE: indians, Emigrants, and Farmers

Description: After the below text, a photo description of a covered wagon trail and its associated text follows.

Text: American Indians now known as the Shoshone-Bannocks and the Shoshone-Paiutes have lived in the Hagerman Valley for 12,000 years. They caught and dried salmon, steelhead trout, whitefish, and other fish—including sturgeon weighing over 1,500 pounds. They dug camas lily and other roots and harvested seeds, fruits, and other plants. They hunted small animals and deer, elk, and mountain sheep.

Well-preserved segments of the Oregon Trail exist in the southern part of the monument. Intense summer heat, dust, wind, and lack of water made crossing the Snake River Plain an ordeal. The Hagerman Valley was one of the few places where emigrants could reach the Snake River for water and to trade for fish with American Indians. Another 700 miles of arduous travel lay between here and their destination.

In 1862, the Idaho gold rush increased traffic on the Oregon Trail. Trains of freight wagons hauling up to five tons each brought supplies to Army camps, mines, and developing towns. A few ranchers settled here later. Farming began in the valley in 1879, with John Bell growing alfalfa. In 1882, the Oregon Short Line railroad arrived north of the valley, and farming settlement increased. Today’s farmers grow corn and potatoes as the major crops.

Bounded on the east by basalt cliffs formed from past lava flows, the valley boasts many springs. Their water exits the ground at a consistent temperature that is ideal for raising trout. Because the springs also keep the wetlands from freezing in winter, many migrating waterfowl spend the winter here.

Photo Caption: Reenactors portray emigrants headed west in the 1800s on the Oregon Trail, which passes through the Hagerman area. Here the emigrants were still 700 miles from their goal—Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Photo description: The center third of side two of the brochure includes a color photo of five white cloth covered wooden wagons with large wheels in a line being pulled by horses and mules. Each wagon is being steered by a person. They have flags flying from the sides of the wagons. A yellow horse with a black mane and tail carries a rider and saddlebags alongside the wagons through the dusty landscape. The trail is etched into the ground and surrounded by plants and grasses. The Hagerman Valley is off to the north. Photo credit: National Park Service 

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TEXT: visiting the National Monument

The visitor center is across from the high school on US 30 and 221 North State Street. It offers information, exhibits, displays, and a bookstore. Open 9 to 5 seasonally, call ahead or check the park website for the schedule. Ranger-led programs are listed on the website. To reach overlooks, drive south on US 30 and cross the Snake River on the Gridley Island Bridge (see map). Turn right on Bell Rapids Road and drive 2.8 miles. The Snake River Overlook is on the right, 0.1 mile after you enter the monument. The boardwalk has exhibits and provides a view of the fossil beds and Snake River. Cross the road to an exhibit about the Oregon Trail; follow the path to see the famous trail. Continue up the road for three miles to reach the Oregon Trail Overlook. Walk the half-mile interpretive trail to enjoy commanding views. You can also start the Emigrant Trail here. This three-mile trail parallels the Oregon Trail.

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Park Features in Photos and Text


On the left side of side two of the brochure are three color photographs with text. The top and bottom photos are landscapes. The middle photo is of a sandhill crane. Their text and descriptions follow.

Photo caption: 

Colossal flooding through the Snake River Valley 15,000 years ago left rocks from the size of watermelons to small cars in what is now Hagerman Valley. Flood waters also exposed the layers and fossils of Hagerman Fossil Beds in the bluffs above the Snake River. 

Photo description: 

A wide field during a sunny day is littered with various sized roundish brown boulders that look like they are strewn randomly about the grass. In the far background, the bluffs of the monument rise into a bluish sky. 

Photo credit: National Park Service

Photo caption: 

Look for the tall sandhill crane along the river or flying overhead. Listen too for its warbling call. Fossils of a similar bird have been found at Hagerman. 

Photo Description: 

A tall leggy sandhill crane walks through the long yellow grasses along the monument. The whitish gray crane has a stunning bright red spot on the top of its head. The tall crane can be found along the river or flying overhead. 

Photo credit: National Park Service.

Photo caption: 

Native vegetation of the Hagerman area typifies species adapted to high desert conditions. Sagebrush, rabbitbrush, and grasses dominate this dry land. 

Photo description: 

Taken from the top of the fossil beds and looking down to the rolling bluffs located below, the landscape is covered in vegetation. Green patches of grass grow along the banks. Larger bushes of sagebrush grow in the foreground mixed with yellow flowers and brown vegetation. 

Photo credit: National Park Service. 

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Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument Map

Located on the right side of side two of the brochure, this map details the Hagerman Valley area and how to get from the Visitor Center, located in the town of Hagerman, to the overlooks on the Monument, located west of town across the Snake River.

The map shows the entire Hagerman Valley including the Visitor Center, roads, trails, boat docks, unpaved roads, parking, the historic Oregon Trail, horseback riding trails, and the Snake River. The map is orientated with North at the top. The 4,394 acre Monument is located in the mid-west section of the map with the Snake River forming its eastern border. The Monument’s western border forms an angular C-shape and is adjacent to private land.

The Snake River flows north and south lengthwise down the Hagerman Valley dividing the valley into east and west. The Visitor Center is located on the east side of the Snake River in the town of Hagerman on Route 30 across from the high school. Route 30 runs north/south through the whole valley.

The monument is located on the west side of the Snake River. To reach the Monument, drive south on Route 30 for 5 miles, then cross the Snake River via the Gridley Island Bridge, turn right onto Bell Rapid Road. Bell Rapid Road traverses the southern fourth of the monument and follows along a portion of the Oregon Trail. Head northwest for 2.5 miles until you reach the Snake River Overlook located on the right.

To visit the Oregon Trail Overlook leave the Snake River Overlook and turn right. Continue west 3 miles. The overlook is located on the left side.

The two overlooks are physically accessible, have trailheads, vault toilets, and parking.

Caution: Public access is limited to overlooks and developed trails in the park. Call 208-933-4100 for information. Otherwise, entering the park can be dangerous because of landslides, rattlesnakes, and scorpions. Obey all hazard signs!

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TEXT: regulations and Safety

  • Emergencies call 9 1 1.
  • Check at the visitor center before driving in the monument to find out which areas are open to the public and if safety restrictions are in place.
  • Caution: Public access is limited to overlooks and developed trails in the park. Call 208-933-4100 for information. Otherwise, entering the park can be dangerous because of landslides, rattlesnakes, and scorpions. Obey all hazard signs! 
  • For firearms regulations, check the park website. 
  • All natural and historic features are protected by federal law. Do not take, disturb, or damage any fossil. If you find a fossil, leave it in place and report it to a ranger. Many fossils are fragile and must be protected by trained experts before they can be moved safely.

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OVERVIEW: more Information

  • Mailing Address: Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, P.O. Box 570, Hagerman, Idaho 83332 
  • Website: www.nps.gov/hafo 
  • Telephone Number: 208-933-4105 
  • The National Park Service: Hagerman Fossil Beds is one of over 400 parks in the National Park System. To learn more about parks and National Park Service programs in America’s communities, please visit www.nps.gov

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OVERVIEW: accessibility

We strive to make our facilities, services, and programs accessible to all. Call or check our website.

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