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Traveling Texas with Ann Harder: Escape the modern world at the Waco Mammoth National Monument

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Posted at 4:23 PM, Jun 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-01 22:17:10-04

WACO, TX — If you're looking for an escape from the modern world you can get a glimpse into the lives of Columbian Mammoths and other Ice Age animals in Waco.

Sitting on more than 100 acres of wooded parkland along the Bosque River is the Waco Mammoth National Monument.

A trail system allows visitors to stroll through the park. You will find plants like the honey locust tree which also grew during the Ice Age. Or you might spot a live oak that’s as old as the U.S. Constitution. There's also a shady picnic area for families to enjoy.

But the real treasure?

The site where fossils, thousands of years old, are being uncovered.

43 years ago, a couple of fossil and arrowhead hunters found a bone sticking out of a ravine that was eroding. They took the bone to Baylor and, sure enough, an expert confirmed it was the femur of a Columbian Mammoth.

Today, the site has revealed a treasure trove of fossils from the Pleistocene Epoch, we know it as the Ice Age. But there are many mysteries still to discover.

The dig reveals the only known Columbian Mammoth nursery herd on the continent making the Waco site unique.

A strong local effort preserved the site until it was declared a National Monument in 2015 as part of the National Park Service.

Visitors to the enclosed dig shelter can see the progress being made. In fact, work is still underway as scientists discover more bones and stories to be told.

"The most exciting thing that somebody is going to see here are In Situ fossils," Lead Park Ranger Brycen Turnbull said. "In Situ means that the fossils are sitting right where we found them. I like to say these fossils have been waiting 65,000 years for you to come and see them."

Along with the Mammoths, bones from a camel, a sabretooth cat tooth, and fragments from tortoise shells have been unearthed.

"We also have found bones that we don't know who they go to, or they belong to, so might have other animals that we just haven't been able to figure out yet," Turnbull said.

There are other sites across the US and Texas where fossilized Mammoths can be found. But the Waco site alone reveals the drama of a nursery herd of grown females and young mammoths meeting a sudden and tragic end.

"What we believe happened was that there was a flood, probably a flash flood that entrapped or drowned that nursery herd."

The park also employs one of three Ph.D. Paleontologists in the National Park System still working to uncover more fossils to solve these Texas-sized mysteries from these Texas-sized creatures.