It was one of the last warm weekends of 2016 when I visited the Mammoth National Monument in Waco, Texas. I pulled in around 11 am and one of the tours had already commenced. Each one costs five dollars and the annual National Park Pass I’d purchased a few months earlier wasn’t applicable. Regardless, it was five bucks well spent! I quickly paid for my ticket before running down the path to join the group. The alternative was standing around thirty minutes for the next one. I followed a path down a ravine and found the group sitting on some bleacher stands listening to our guide.
Each tour is led by one of the Monument’s Rangers, in this case, a charismatic speaker named Gena. The first thing she educated us on was the difference between the more widely known Wooly Mammoth versus the Columbian Mammoth. While both roamed North America, Columbian mammoths were larger; measuring up to fourteen feet at the shoulder and weighing in at twenty thousand pounds. Wooly Mammoths stood ten feet at the shoulder and ten thousand pounds. Columbian mammoths were also a lot less hairy than their cousins and lived in warmer climates.
As we neared the dig site, we were then told the history of the site.
Back in 1978 a couple of friends (Paul Barron and Eddie Bufkin) were trespassing on some land near the Bosque River looking for arrow heads when they’d stumble on a large femur bone, instead. Thankfully, despite risking their getting into trouble, the boys reported it to the right people and further excavation would lead to the discovery of sixteen mammoths so far. This group would later be identified as “nursery herd” (a group of adult females with calves) who all died during a single cataclysmic event (most likely a flood).
We passed over a wood plank walkway to the actual site. Since its discovery, the area has been enclosed, protecting the fossils from the elements as well as making further excavation easier. It became an official National Monument in 2015 via an Executive Order signed by President Obama.
Once inside, Ranger Gena pointed out the individual mammoth remains while discussing details of how they may have lived. The amount of information is far too much to share here so, if you can’t make it out here, please visit the Waco Mammoth National Monument website.
As mentioned, the site is still being excavated with new finds likely. Since the initial dig, six more mammoths (including a large bull) were discovered as well as a prehistoric camel which scientists believed may have stayed near the herd for protection while offering its better eyesight in exchange. Other animals, including a Smilodon (saber-toothed cat), were found as well but died in this same location at a different time period.
After the tour, I returned to the Visitor Center and picked up a few elephant-related souvenirs.
If you’re ever in or around Waco, Texas this is definitely worth a visit. The Rangers are thorough and eager to answer any and all questions. It’s a rare and wonderful discovery that will change your understanding of what life in North America was like 67,000 years ago!