"" Writer's Wanderings: Road Trip 2015 - A Mammoth Dig

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Road Trip 2015 - A Mammoth Dig

From the Grand Teton National Park we drove to Casper Wyoming, stayed the night and set our sights on Rapid City, South Dakota, where we would spend a couple of nights and explore. About three hours into the drive we began seeing signs about a Mammoth--signs with the woolly animal, tusks and all, inviting us to stop. So. . .we did!

The town was Hot Springs, SD, and it was almost time to stop for lunch. We couldn't resist taking a look. Admission was only $9 for seniors and the tour was guided. The young man ushered our group into a short movie and then equipped us with a receiver and earphones that would help us to hear him clearly.

The dig has identified at least 61 different mammoths--two kinds, Colombian and woolly. The place was discovered in 1974 when a contractor who occasionally dabbled in paleontology began excavating for a new housing development. When he discovered the first bones, he stopped all work and notified those who could come in and uncover and preserve what was there.

In center, looking like footprints, are molars.
So how did so many mammoths (and several other types of animals) end up in one relatively small place? The answer lies in the formation of a sink hole some 26,000 years ago. There was a warm artesian spring that flooded the sink hole enticing the mammoths to drink and bathe in the water. Unfortunately for the mammoths, the edge of the sink hole was soft material that gave way easily and with their bulk and weight made it impossible to get out. On of the skeletons was found half in and half out of the lip of the hole. The hole eventually filled with silt and sediment and the mud that had made it impossible for the mammoths to crawl back out seeped in and around the remains preserving them.

Once the digging was underway and the perimeter of the sink hole determined, the area was enclosed and is now climate controlled to help preserve the finds there. The digging is still going on--slowly as with any discovery such as this. There are all sorts of programs available to involve the public including an area set up to encourage young paleontologists.

The bones are all displayed where they were found and our young guide used a laser pointer to show us some of the skeletons that were a little harder to see. Some are on top of each other. There are several though that are fairly intact and pose an impressive idea of what these amazing creatures must have looked like--at least in their skeletal dimension.

Well worth the stop. We had lunch down the road and then were on our way again to our next stop. The Black Hills of South Dakota.

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