Imagine it is a spring day in 1978, you are a teenager out looking for arrow head in creek in South Texas. You are walking down a creek and instead of an arrowhead you find a large bone. Luckily Paul Barron and Eddie Bufkin Recognizing the unusual nature of the find, they removed the bone and took it to the Strecker Museum at Baylor University for examination. This led to the discovery of The nation’s first and only recorded discovery of a nursery herd of Pleistocene mammoths.
Our family was headed to Waco, Tx to visit Magnolia market of HGTV Fixer Upper fame and we knew that that would not take up the entire day. We decided to visit the Waco Mammoth National Monument. We could get out National Parks passport stamped and we thought our 9 year old would like seeing the bones and dig site. This turned out to be so much more. All four of us really enjoyed this. We arrived and got tickets for the Ranger Guided Tour, $17.00 for our family of 4 with a discount, completely worth it! Our Ranger, Dava is a great story teller. She led us down the path to the dig site and explained the history of the discovery and what was the biggest question, were these Woolly Mammoths?
The five-acre Waco Mammoth National Monument sits within 100+ acres of wooded parkland along the Bosque River. Surrounded by oak, mesquite and cedar trees. Though the first bones were discovered in the 1970’s, the site remained closed to the public until the end of 2009. For more than 30 years, Baylor University staff, students and volunteers spent countless hours excavating the site.
In 2006, plans were initiated to make the site a public park. With the support of the Waco Mammoth Foundation, this goal became a reality. The Waco Mammoth Site opened to the public in December 2009 courtesy of the City of Waco Parks and Recreation Department. In 2015, President Barack Obama signed an executive order creating Waco Mammoth National Monument.
While it is cool, that the Mammoths are now a part of the National Park System, it is great that the Waco Mammoth Foundation and the City of Waco are really maintaining it and paying for the upkeep of the building and the staff. The NPS is working to help fund the future digs and the scientific side, while the city and the foundation maintain the facilities and the staff. I think this is a great three way spilt and may be a model going forward.
The question of the mammoths? Woolly or not, well turns out I learned that were not. These mammoths are Columbian Mammoths (Mammuthus columbi) lived during the Pleistocene Epoch (2.5 million years to 10,000 years ago). This kind of mammoth was one of the largest mammals to have lived during the the last ice age. Other animals that lived during this time included giant ground sloths, short-faced bears and giant beavers. These are a relative of the Woolly mammoth, but Woolly mammoths stayed farther north in much colder regions, can you imagine Woolley Mammoths in a South Texas Summer?
Columbian mammoths grew to more than 14 feet in height and weighed up to 10 tons (20,000 lbs). That is about the weight of a school bus! They stood 2 to 4 feet taller and weighed up to 8,000 pounds more than Woolly mammoths. The tusks grew as long as 16 feet and weighed up to 200 pounds each. They spent up to 20 hours a day eating 300 to 700 pounds of grass and large fruits. As a result, mammoths produced around 400 pounds of dung a day.
If you have children under the age of 13 or so, they can do the National park Service Junior Ranger program. They have a workbook and they have to complete a number of the activities based on their age to earn the badge. My nine year old is all into badges so it was a hit.
After you get your tour tickets at the welcome center, a guide will lead you down a 300 yard paved path to the Dig Shelter where the mammoth fossils are in situ. During your tour, you will learn about the Ice Age, how our fossils were discovered, and why we are one of the most important paleontological sites in North America.
- Adults: $5
- Seniors (over 60): $4
- Military (w/ID): $4
- Educator (w/ID): $4
- Students (7th grade thru college): $4
- Children (PreK-6th grade): $3
- Infants (ages 3 and under): FREE
- Please Note: National Parks Passes do not apply to guided tour fees. Please support our preservation mission as access to the in situ fossil bed is by guided tour only while this new unit of the National Park Service is under development.
This may have been the best $17.00 I spent during this year’s Christmas Break. We all enjoyed the tour and every one of us learned something. We highly recommend this if you are in the Waco, TX area.