The Jeep tour of Custer wrapped up at around lunchtime so we headed out to find someplace to have a bite to eat and since we were already ½ way to Hot Springs decided to continue down to the Mammoth Site. The weather was turning threatening and this is an enclosed dig so it made sense.
Although we were using maps we didn’t realize that we would be driving through Wind Cave National Park until we saw the signs. The roads are wide, paved and well maintained but don’t take that for granted and put the pedal to the medal. Out here the wildlife rules! Pronghorn were everywhere and we saw plenty of deer too but what you really had to be careful about was the buffalo.
As we came around a curve there was another herd crossing the road. We pulled into a parking area and took some more pictures. The buffalo were spread out through a prairie dog town and the little rodents we busy “barking” alerts and scampering between burrows.
Eventually the herd moved on and we resumed our trek south.
Reaching Hot Springs I was impressed by what a pretty town it was. I also got quite a scare because I think we nearly were hit by one of the turkey vultures in the area. I only got a glimpse of the bird that dive bombed the car but it was big and ugly! It almost flew right into the windshield on the drivers side. Thankfully it missed us and I didn’t run into anything but it did leave my heart pounding like mad! A modern-day pterodactyl? We are in fossil country.
A little farther on we spotted the sign for the Mammoth Site.
The Mammoth site is open all year. It is a combination of working dig, museum and educational center. Allow at least an hour to take the tour and explore the exhibits. I loved the way there were markers placed in the dig with explanations of what you were looking at. The tour guide also explains a great deal and gets the kids involved with facsimile bones and skeletons.
The 36,000 sq. ft. visitor center is climate controlled and includes a kid’s activity area to provide budding young scientists with “hands-on” experience.
As you tour the site you will see bones still in the same place that they were found. The site was a huge sink hole that filled with water. Mammoths and other animals came to the sink hole to drink, fell in and could not get out again. Eventually the sink hole filled in again and the animals were buried and became fossilized. The site was discovered when the “hill” was being bulldozed for a building project and the operator spotted bones being uncovered. He stopped and called in the scientists and the rest as they say is history, the Mammoth Site was born.
Since it’s discovery in 1974 the remains of 58 mammoths that includes 55 Columbian and 3 woolly mammoths have been recovered. Scientist believe there could be as many as 100 mammoths in this small area.
If you have any interest in fossil hunting or paleontology, this is a not to be missed stop on any itinerary.
It was getting late in the day so we turned our rental northward to get back to Rapid City but there was still one more surprise for us today.
Tell you all about that tomorrow J