Ogallala is a small town in Nebraska, one with people proud of their cowboy heritage, broadcasting it in signage and storefronts. It’s also home to a huge summer hot spot: Lake McConaughy (better known as Lake Mac). But there’s one hidden gem that deserves to be in the spotlight as much as the other two: Petrified Wood & Art Gallery.
The ancient wood is the big appeal at the gallery, but you’ll want to read on to hear about the identical twin artists who created it.
What is petrified wood?
Before I get into explaining this gallery, you’ve got to know what I’m talking about. Quite simply, petrified wood is a fossil.
The art pieces found in the gallery are carved out of once-living trees, but over time, they’ve turned to stone as the organic material is replaced by minerals like silica. Some pieces are millions of years old!
Petrified wood isn’t rare, though, and can be found all over the world. In the U.S., here are a few forests to visit:
- Petrified Forest National Park near Holbrook, Ariz,
- Petrified Palm Deposits in the Catahoula Formation of Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi
- Ginkgo Petrified Forest near Wanapum Reservoir, Washington
- The Petrified Forest near Calistoga, Calif.
- Mississippi Petrified Forest near Flora, Miss.
- The Gilboa Fossils near Gilboa, NY
- Florissant Fossil Beds near Florissant, Colo.
- Gallatin Petrified Forest near Yellowstone, Wyo.
- Escalante Petrified Forest State Park near Escalante, Utah
- Petrified Wood Park in Lemmon, S.D.
- Blue Forest near Eden Valley, Wyo.
When visiting these places or others known for petrified wood, please be aware of laws on collecting them. Get permission, either from the landowner or the government agency in charge of the government-owned land where collecting will occur.
Pieces in the Ogallala gallery come from all over the world, including Nebraska.
Related post: Want more travel inspiration? Here are 101 things to do in Nebraska!
How it started: The story of Howard and Harvey Kenfield
Identical twins Harvey and Howard Kenfield starting collecting the item Native American artifacts in 1953, a pursuit that led to beginning collections of petrified wood. They learned to cut and polish rocks and over the course of several decades, they built up an incredible collection ranging from arrowheads found within 25 miles of Ogalalla to ancient woods and fossils found around the world.
They opened the first Petrified Wood Gallery just south of Ogallala in 1973. In 2000, they donated their large collection to the Western Nebraska Community Foundation, and the gallery moved to its new home at Front Street. The collection grew, and eventually moved to its current location in 2011.
What to expect at the gallery
I’ll admit I wasn’t anticipating liking this gallery as much as I did (even though it’s the top-ranked attraction in Ogallala!). The details the artists created in each piece is impressive, from the delicate wooden structures of farmhouses, windmills, and porches. And it’s not “just wood,” it’s all petrified wood.
Display cases of shiny rocks and smooth discs from fallen trees compete for your attention.
And then there are the larger show-stoppers, like the giant geode of amethyst and the carved rocking chair (made out of petrified wood, of course).
The gallery also houses a collection of Native People’s artifacts from arrowheads to sculptures and headdresses, as well as occasional pieces that are on loan.
If you visit
The Petrified Wood & Art Gallery is free to visit, though good will donations are accepted. There’s a gift shop to browse for collectibles, decor, and gifts.
Kids are welcomed inside, but given the age of many of the pieces, keep a close eye on them.
The gallery is located at 418 E. First St., Ogallala, and a short distance from Interstate 80.