Updated: May 21, 2015
The Mammoth Site - Hot Springs, SD:This was my 2nd trip to the Mammoth Site over the last decade. The first time I was by myself and practically stumbled upon the place after going to Mt. Rushmore. On this trip (July 2012) I wanted my kids to see the site and experience what I had ten years ago. Back in 1974 this fossil site was discovered after a tractor moving earth for a housing development unearthed remnants of some of the bones that had been beneath the surface some 26000 years. South Dakota has several fossil sites and this is certainly one of the biggest with 60 mammoths found to date. Several other species of animals including camel, giant short faced bear, llama, prairie dog, wolf, fish, and more have been found. Both Columbia and woolly mammoths are buried in this ancient sink hole. What I like is that the site is active - you can still see people brushing, wiping, and digging through the dirt to get access to the bones. Many of the skeletons have been removed over the years, but there is still more to be uncovered and you are guaranteed to see all of it when you visit.
The official website is at http://www.mammothsite.com/. I suggest visiting the mammoth site before or after you have been to Mt. Rushmore. Nearby is the Badlands National Park and the famous town of Sturgis (motorcycle rally every August), so you can see quite a bit if you give yourself a few days. We traveled out from Oregon and this was only a short stop along a 2 week road trip for us. The dig site is easy to access as it is roughly 1 hour due south from Rapid City, South Dakota. It's located in a town called Hot Springs - right off of Hwy 385 and Hwy 18. The town is small and offers very little, but most people venture down here just to see the great skeletal remains of the mammoths which walked this earth 1000's of years ago. The pictures below that we have posted let you see some of the fossils as they lay within the site. You can't actually touch them, but you do get within a few feet of most and can take pictures or video. There are volunteers that work on the fossil bed area and they are constantly finding more parts/bones to the ancient elephant type creatures. They believe there are over 75 mammoths in this sink hole and after almost 30 years have only uncovered 60. Your kids will find the place fascinating - there are hands on displays with bones, an ice age exhibit, walk-in mammoth bone hut, and even the possibility of a junior Paleontologist dig if you want. I found it to be very educational and worth the visit both by myself and with the kids.
Mammoth Site Hours and Tours:The hours vary by season, but the facility is open year round with only a few dates being closed (Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Years, and Easter Sunday). You can get the full details on hours online at http://www.mammothsite.com/hours.html. The tours are offered throughout the day and they last for roughly 30 minutes. You stop off at various points around the dig site and the tour guide talks to you about the bones, the history, the future of the site, the process of removing bones, what they have found over the years, etc. My 7 year old son had a great time and listened to all they had to say. You are allowed to ask questions along the way and afterwards you can browse the entire site on your own. The exhibits are good and in 2012 they just got the Lyuba replica - this was the baby mammoth that was found almost entirely intact in Siberia. National Geographic did a great story on this and now the Mammoth Site has their own Lyuba. The ticket prices are about $9 for adults, $7 for kids, and those ages 3 and under are currently FREE.
|Mammoth head bone with tusks.
|Another mammoth head with tusks.
|Display showing the size of the Columbian Mammoths that are being unearthed here.
|Front entrance to the site.