As we rolled into Waco Texas, the only thing I knew of it was the Branch Davidian shootout that took place in there in 1993. It turns out that another thing they are famous for is Mammoth fossils. In 1978 a couple of locals were searching an old riverbed for Indian arrowheads when they stumbled upon some very large bones. They took them to Baylor university where they were identified as the bones of a Columbian Mammoth. The university gathered up volunteers and they began excavating the site.
Not only did they discover a large number of Mammoths, they also found other mega-fauna of the period such as saber tooth cats and ancient camels. Among the Columbian Mammoths were adult males as well as children along with at least one large bull. This makes it the only known find of a Columbian Mammoth nursery. In total, more than 30 mammoths have been discovered on the site.
Columbian Mammoth are not wooly mammoths. They are, however, creatures of that same, ice-age time frame. They lived south of the glacial zone and were significantly larger than their wooly brethren. These were the largest mammals ever to walk the earth. They were up to 13′ tall and could have tusks up to 16′ long.
What you will find
If you visit, you will discover that it is not a large park. The site consists of a visitors center, a short nature trail, and a large enclosure where you can view the main dig site. All in all, you can visit the park and have a good look in under an hour. As usual, Trail and I tend to linger longer than most, looking carefully at the artifacts and reading all the signs we can find.
The dig site is the main attraction here. The large building covers the dig site and protects it from the elements and local fauna. A catwalk lets you walk above the dig site and look down at the remains within. Most of the animals have been left in the ground such that you can see the exposed bones, but they are still embedded in the earth in the positions that they were discovered. We felt it was a great way to present the remains. Most of the time you see the creatures re-assembled, with missing pieces filled in. Here you are looking at them exactly as they were discovered.
The grounds themselves are very nice, perfect for a picnic lunch if you want to extend your stay. There were quite a few lizards, birds, and butterflies on hand when we made our visit in early spring. They even have a nice amphitheater for special events and lectures though none were going on when we visited.
To access the dig site enclosure you will need to join a tour. Unlike many national parks, there is a tour fee of $5 that is not covered by a National Parks pass. There is no other fee for the park, but since the enclosure is the main attraction, it is assumed everyone who visits is going to go on the tour. We found the ranger to be both engaging and very knowledgeable about the site. You will get a lot of information from your guide that is not found on the interpretive signs. You also get the opportunity to ask questions.
Waco Mammoth was made National Monument in 2015 by Obama. Prior to that, it was a Texas state park run in conjunction with Baylor University. As a result, the money collected is shared between the national parks service and the state parks service. One cool thing you can find in the visitors center is the actual signed executive order that created the monument, signed by the president. It is the only one we’ve yet seen on display. If you visit Baylor itself, you can find more information about the site and the Mammoths in their museum of natural history.