Photo courtesy Grow Garden County
Ash Hollow State Historical Park near the west end of Lake McConaughy in Garden County is one of Nebraska’s most intriguing state parks. A modern interpretive center interprets the area’s geology, paleontology, prehistoric history and use by native American Indians, the military, and 19th Century explorers and pioneers. Ash Hollow Cave shows evidence of use of the area by prehistoric man as many as 6,000 years ago. More than 30 million years of geologic history and fossils of prehistoric mammals including rhinoceros and mastodons can be examined at the park. Ash Hollow was a stopping point for Plains Indians, a site of U.S. troop maneuvers and a place for shelter and water on the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails. Ruts are still visible at Windlass Hill where wagons were lowered into the valley. In 1835 it was the site of a battle between the Sioux and Pawnee and in 1855 was the site of one of the largest engagements between Native Americans and the white man.
Since 1993, a volunteer crew of nearly 100 local residents have staged the annual Ash Hollow Pageant at the park. The event is staged each June at the very site where pioneers stopped to rest at a fresh water spring, against the backdrop of the limestone cliffs. The pageant features live music, a chuckwagon supper, and a script drawn from actual trail diaries and histories.