The fascinating Mammoth Site (1800 Hwy. 18, 605/745-6017, www.mammothsite.com, mid-May–mid-Aug. daily 8 a.m.–8 p.m., mid-Aug.–Labor Day daily 8 a.m.–6 p.m., Labor Day–Sept. daily 8 a.m.–5 p.m., Oct. daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Nov.–Feb. Mon.–Sat. 9 a.m.–3:30 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–3:30 p.m., Mar.–mid-May daily 8 a.m.–5 p.m., adult $8, senior $7.50, child 5–12 $6, child under 5 free) is a must on any vacation to the Black Hills.
The first mammoth tusk discovered at the site was overturned by accident. Early in 1974, a bulldozer, working to level out the hill for a planned real estate development, uncovered the tusk. Thankfully, the owner of the property was willing to halt development until the site could be evaluated.
Since then, the skeletal remains of 58 mammoths have been found and are displayed where they were uncovered. In addition to the mammoths, 85 other species of animals, plants, and several unidentified insects dating back 26,000 years to the Pleistocene Age have been archived.
A guided tour of the Sink Hole and Dig Site takes about 30 minutes, after which visitors are free to wander the dig site as long as they please. The Self-Guided Tour pamphlet is available in Dutch, English, French, German, French, Russian, and Italian for those who elect not to participate in a group tour.
During the month of July, the site is alive with activity as members of Earthwatch come to continue the dig. It’s fascinating to watch the dedicated volunteers at work with tiny tools that look much like dental equipment.
The Mueller Exhibit Hall, adjacent to the dig site, features replicas of many of the animals found at the dig, a mammoth bone hut, and a collection of some of the oldest North American arrowheads. There are also skeletons of now-extinct carnivores on display, including the short-faced bear and the American lion.
The Mammoth Site offers a Junior Paleontologist Excavation Program (June–July daily 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., Aug. daily 2 p.m., $9) in the summer months for children aged 4–13. This program allows kids to dig at a simulated excavation site with the same tools that are used at the real dig. The program takes about an hour and a half and includes lessons on Ice Age animals and specimen identification.
Children will get dirty during the dig, so spare clothing is recommended. Advance reservations are required for this program. Reservations can be made as early as January in the year plans are made to visit the site.
© Laural A. Bidwell from Moon Mount Rushmore & the Black Hills, 1st Edition