Museums don’t have to be large to interesting and the Trailside Museum of Natural History at Fort Robinson State Park is a prime example. Located in Crawford, Nebraska in the northwestern corner of the state, the Trailside Museum is only one room, but it makes the most of it. As you walk through the doors, the first thing you see is a life-size skeleton of a Columbian Mammoth (the state fossil of Nebraska). The walls of the room are lined with fossils from the area arranged in chronological order, and include many fossils including ammonites, fossil trees, and big horn sheep.
The most impressive exhibit is without a doubt the ‘Clash of the Mammoths’. You can’t miss it; it dominates most of the back of the museum. Tens of thousands of years ago, two male mammoths fought and died in what is now western Nebraska. Both of these mammoths were around 40 years old and, because male mammoths continue growing throughout most of their adult lives, were very large. More importantly, each of these mammoths had one whole and one broken tusk. In modern elephants, males with a broken tusk tend to be vicious fighters and use the broken tusk to stab their opponent. For this reason, these fighting males were at very close quarters. Somehow they managed to entangle themselves and died that way, each dragging the other down. (Side note: if you look closely at the tusks while standing at the back of the exhibit, you’ll see a small rectangular hole in one of them. Unfortunately, it is not visible in this picture. This hole was made by Dr. Dan Fisher, a paleontologist who studies the life histories of mammoths and mastodons. You’ll see these little marks on tusks in museums across the country.)
Don’t let the size of this museum mislead you, it is definitely worth a visit. If you’re ever driving through southwestern South Dakota or northwestern Nebraska, I highly recommend visiting the Trailside Museum, the Mammoth Site, and other museums along the Fossil Freeway.