Prehistoric Three Toed Horse

the desolate beauty of ashfall fossil beds

Photograph by Eric Tastad


Some ridiculous number of millions of years ago, a volcano in Idaho blew its top and sent ash perhaps as far as the Great Lakes.

Twelve million years ago to be semi-exact. When it did that, America was a very different place.

Three toed horses, rhinos and camels roamed the grassy savanna that was then and still is modern day Nebraska. Giant beavers would have been common. Saber-toothed predators. Saber-toothed deer even. The ash filled the air quickly. Smaller mammals died off first, then the big guys. Gnawing from those aforementioned predators can be seen on their remains today. No predators, however, seemed to have succumbed to the ash. If you have big enough teeth, even a volcano can’t kill you.

Today this all exists, still preserved, like an American Pompeii but so much older. So much truer, to what this nation is and was and could be again. If the white man destroyed the Indians, if modern civilization is destroying the atmosphere, well should we not also blame ancient volcanos for destroying the American camel?

That is not a message of desperation, and certainly not born of ignorance. It’s a call to action. At any moment the Pacific could rise, a meteor could crash, or a volcano could erase the world into red and grey. Aliens could seep into our galaxy and promise to trade shiny laserbeam trinkets for our oxygen. Whether we choose to spend our short days on this good old planet waiting to be captured in ash or running three-toed through the wilderness, I wonder who will look at us in some distant future wondering, “Why did they have so many eyes?”