Dunes and Fossils

Greg hikes a sand dune.

June 21 – June 24, 2020.

We didn’t expect to find shorebirds in Idaho, we didn’t expect to find an amazing canyon with such amazing scenery in Idaho, and we didn’t expect to find the tallest sand dune in North America in Idaho. And we had no idea we’d find all of this in one big green blob on the map that was for the most part with in the boundary of the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey NCA.

Our last stop in the Morley Nelson area was Bruneau Dunes State Park. I think we decided to go there because we wanted to kayak again and the park had two small ponds. But the big attraction here was the sand dunes. Standing at 470 feet this lofty single-structured dune loams over the ponds. People come here to climb this sandy skyscraper as well as the adjacent dunes and to sandboard down them. The visitor center rents boards if you don’t bring your own.

And then after a kayak, a hike, and a dune climb we finally left Morley Nelson. It was time to head back Twin Falls, where we had done laundry and a bit of provisioning two weeks earlier, to get ready for another two weeks of adventuring. But first, we had to make a stop at a place we spied and then zipped by on our way to Morley Nelson – Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument.

Arriving a few hours before the monument’s visitor center opened we drove passed it to the Hagerman Wildlife Management Area to stalk for birds and kill time. We weren’t disappointed in our stalking pursuits and wasted plenty of time.

The Fossil Beds encompass 4351 acres and stretch 6 miles along the west side of the Snake River. (Yes, the Snake River again. We may have left Morley Nelson but the Snake would be with us a few more days) There are two overlooks in the Monument (which we went to) but although there are active digs in Hagerman you can’t see any fossils from these vistas. The free visitor center is where all the good stuff is including one of the 20 complete skeletons of the Hagerman Horse found in the Monument. There we saw a short movie about the area, lots of great displays, and talked with some knowledgeable volunteers.

That evening we found ourselves at Bell Rapids, a free campsite that overlooked the Snake River not far from the visitor center. Spanning out on the other side were the bluffs of the Hagerman fossil beds, holding clues to what life was like in this surprising place we now call Idaho.

* Click to enlarge pics.

Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park

Atop the tallest sand dune in North America.
The dunes were left behind by the flood that drained Lake Bonneville. Prevailing wind patterns hold the dunes in place now.
In the early 1950s Idaho Power built the C.J Strike Dam downstream on the nearby Snake River. After the dam was completed the local water table rose, creating two ponds at the base of the dunes.
Pirogue Bleue on the larger pond beneath the dunes.
Marsh Wren singing. These birds flit around among the reeds. They are very difficult to catch with a camera.
American Coot.
Red-winged Blackbird.

Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument

Hagerman Fossil beds on the Snake River. The sediment at river level is 3.7 million years old. The top of the bluff is 3.15 million years old. The Bonneville Flood removed sediment, exposing fossils. Among these, twenty complete skeletons of prehistoric horses were found.
Display showing similarity of size between Pliocene birds and their modern counterparts. The left of each pair is a fossil, and the right is a modern bird bone. Crane, Trumpeter Swan, Snow Goose, Cormorant, Duck, and Crow are represented.
Camel fossil at Hagerman. North American Camels and horses died out. Horses were re-introduced by Europeans.
Camel jaw.
One of the Hagerman Horses. They were closer in size to a zebra than to a modern horse. They are the oldest single-toe horses found.
Single-toed hoof of a Hagerman Horse.
Reproduction of Mastadon fossils found at Hagerman.

Hagerman Wildlife Management Area

American White Pelicans. We hiked around a series of ponds at Hagerman WMA. The WMA also serves as a fish hatchery.
Eastern Kingbird.
Eastern Kingbird in flight.
Brewer’s Blackbirds.
Western Honey Bee.
Killdeer protecting its nest. This one paraded in front of us, calling out. When it was sure it had our attention it acted wounded, shaking its tail feathers at us, then moving farther away.
Mexican Ducks (or possibly Mallards) in the lower left.
We spotted a couple of Ospreys right outside the WMA. This one was protecting the nest…
… while this one circled around close by.
We saw this Long-nosed Leopard Lizard at one of the overlooks for the Fossil Beds.
And then we saw another Long-nosed Leopard Lizard.

8 thoughts on “Dunes and Fossils

  1. Love your posts – but this one really caught my eye – a fossil horse!!! You know I am horse crazy, so I also passed this on to some of my horse friends. What I did find curious, the horse head seemed to have the bottom jaw placement a little too far back. It made the front of his mouth with an underbite (or is it overbite?) and the molars didn’t line up. I’m guessing it either moved once wired together, or that wiring it correctly would have made it difficult.
    BTW, did you guys sand board? (Oddly, Pat saw someone do that somewhere else on tv and just commented that he might would try that…..hope we don’t see any sand dunes anytime soon….we don’t want anymore body part replacements!)

    1. You know, every time I see a live horse I think about you but didn’t when we saw this horse skeleton.

      Wow! Good catch. In fact this is a female horse skeleton that mistakenly got put together with a lower male jaw – that’s why it looks wrong.

      No we didn’t sand board. It looks like fun but climbing sand dunes is a lot of work – so I wouldn’t want to do it more than once.

      Keep Pat safe!

  2. Not to be a killjoy, but Star Dune in Great Sand Dunes National Park (Colorado) is about 750 feet tall. The tallest dune at Kelso Dunes (Mojave Desert) is about 700 feet.

    1. Your not a killjoy. The problem was Greg wrote the captions and I wtote the text. The dune at Bruneau is the tallest “single structured” dune. All I could find explaining what “single structured” is compared to “multi-structured” is that “its sand hills are connected to one another rather than being spread out.”

      And now I have to go to Great Sand Dunes to see the tallest.

  3. I would love to get on those sand dunes and with some protective gear, try sand boarding. Again you have shown me an area I knew nothing about. The kayaking looks blissfully peaceful. Nothing like perfectly still water.

    1. Fun! You are adventurous. I bet sand boarding is fun but I’m just not that athletic or coordinated.

  4. That leopard lizard looks incredible! Another surprise in Idaho, those dunes. Your posts really peaked my interest to visit that state, especially the area around the Snake River.

    I’m surprised the visitor centers are open over there. In New England, forest service visitor centers (and others too) remain closed. In Belgium, things appear pretty much normal again (apart from masks in stores and social distancing) – similar to the Midwest perhaps – but in Massachusetts there are still many restrictions (closures) and more than 50% of the population in our town wears masks outside when walking/hiking.

    1. We are finding some visitor centers open and some closed. Some of the parks we have been to have moved the visitor center outside. The one at Bruneau wasn’t that busy. There is an observatory at Bruneau and it was closed. All the bathrooms were open but the showers closed. Not sure I get the rhyme or reason – except that some parks mention staffing as the reason that some part of the park or campgrounds are closed. Maybe they can’t get volunteers.

      Looking back at it, now that I’m putting these post together, Idaho has lots to offer – and we just saw a tiny bit of it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.