State offers plenty of possibilities for family vacation

Friday, June 19, 2009

Summer is a great time to get away with the family, and although gasoline prices are inching upward again, they're far below what they were last summer.

Still, one doesn't always have to drive to the mountains or other distant location to find an attraction worth the visit. Nebraska has many such attractions, but a new one caught our eye this week with a dedication Friday.

Scientists believe a volcano in what is now Idaho exploded 12 million years ago, suffocating an array of extinct animals -- rhinos, camels, horses and hundreds of other animals -- gathered around a watering hole in northeast Nebraska.

In 1971, Mike Voorhies, professor emeritus and curator of vertebrate paleontology, discovered the skull of a baby rhinoceros eroding from the wall of a ravine at the edge of a cornfield on Melvin Colson's farm in northern Antelope County.

Since then more than 350 full skeletons and 25,000 isolated fossil specimens have been documented at the site, which became Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park, opened to the public June 1, 1991. Located 6 miles north of U.S. Highway 20 between Royal and Orchard, the park is operated by the University of Nebraska State Museum and Nebraska Game & Parks Commission.

The site is the only enclosed fossil site in North America where paleontologists continue to unearth large skeletons that resemble real animals.

The original enclosure, built in 1991, has just been expanded to eight times its original size, to 17,500 square feet, thanks to a $1.2 million gift to the University of Nebraska Foundation by the Theodore F. and Claire M. Hubbard Family Foundation, and named the Hubbard Rhino Barn.

On average, about 20,000 to 30,000 people visit Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park each year, including dozens of students from around the world studying the site's geology and paleontology.

Perhaps a visit to Ashfall would be just the thing to give the budding scientist in your family the inspiration for a future career.

Yes, it's a long way from Southwest to Northwest Nebraska, but there are plenty of other potential stops along the way. North Platte's new Golden Spike railroad observation tower, Minden's Pioneer Village, Kearney's Great Platte River Road Archway, the Strategic Air & Space Museum at Ashland, the Henry Doorly Zoo at Ashland and Omaha and other sites come to mind.

Along the way, how about stopping at some of the state's new wineries, or staying at one of the many beds-and-breakfast?

With a little imagination and planning, one could have quite a vacation without ever leaving the state.

More information is available at http://www.visitnebraska.gov// or http://ashfall.unl.edu/

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