One of the coolest and nerdiest places we visited was the Mammoth Site in Hot Spring, South Dakota. It is an active paleontological dig site that also serves as a museum. It’s only about an hour drive from Rapid City and 20 mins from Wind Cave National Park. We had some time before our tour at Wind Cave NP started so we decided to visit what turned out to be one of the coolest places in SD. Everything about this place is awesome, from how the site was discovered to how it ended up being an active dig site to the research being done. It. Was. Awesome!
In 1974, construction was going on at the site to build apartment building when one of the workers noticed some unusual bones. The landowner, Phil Anderson, asked for more research and a treasure trove was discovered. Phil Anderson ended up donating the site to a non profit to preserve the site. The entry fee is only $10 per person which includes a 10 min video and a 30 min guided tour through the actual dig site. After the guided tour, you can spend more time walking around the dig site, explore the Muller Hall which is a small museum and even see the lab where paleontologists work. Some of the large bones have been left in situ and seeing these bones gave me goose bumps.
The sinkhole formed about 26,000 years ago and was slowly filled with silt over a span of 300 to 400 years. Impressions of mammoth footprints are seen within different layers as the sinkhole as it slowly filled up over hundreds of years. Paleontologists aren’t sure exactly how deep the sinkhole actually goes. As of now, it’s 65 feet deep. Each year, they continue to dig and find more bones. So far, 61 mammoths have been dug up at this site and 3 of them are woolly mammoths. Interestingly, ALL 61 of them are young males. So far, not a single female mammoth has been found at this dig site. It is believed that mammoths have matriarchal societies and young males prone to taking risks were sometimes expelled. These young males would go to the sinkhole to drink water, slip and fall, and wouldn’t be able to get out.
After the guided tour, you can walk around the site, visit the small museum and even watch scientists work on the fossils removed from the site. Their gift shop also has some great souvenirs. This was probably the best $10 we spent in South Dakota. It’s definitely worth taking a few hours to visit this site.
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