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Waco Mammoth Site Opens to the Public

Dec. 6, 2009

Eddie Bufkin and his friend Paul Barron were walking around the woods near Steinbeck Bend Road and Lakeshore Drive in 1978 when they stumbled upon something they didn't immediately recognize, something they would later learn were mammoth bones. Bufkin and Barron were among the hundreds on hand 30 years later on Saturday, marveling that the woods they once hiked now contain a sparkling new building to protect those bones, trails, a gift shop, land that held the largest herd of mammoths discovered, and maybe, a national monument. Saturday's grand opening began with recognition of the community teamwork that led to this day.

Representative Chet Edwards was among a number of local luminaries addressing the donors, volunteers, and workers who got the first look at the facility before its afternoon opening to the public. Walking past a gift shop and welcome center, a short wooded path takes you along the ravine where Eddie and Paul first found the bones. Allie Hewitt, a Baylor museum studies student, guided one group.

Around a corner, the building that houses and protects the bones and excavation site looms over the creekbed. A slanted roof, lined windows, and a color tone that complements the surroundings is the most dramatic structure at the moment on the site. Crowds waiting outside Saturday were given a preview of what was inside.

Inside, that catwalk takes people thorugh a climate-controlled building and over the excavated earth, revealing the skeletal remains of the mammoths and yes, a camel and saber-toothed cat. The most dramatic part of the site is the massive skeleton of a bull mammoth, with a juvenile riding his tusk, as the parent frantically tried to save its young from the flood or catastrophic event that claimed their lives. It's that story and that mystery-what were they doing there in a place they thought was safe, and what took their lives--that makes this excavation site more than just an already-impressive array of remains.

It's a story that most stands out to many parents, including Baylor president David Garland and Congressman Edwards.

For many of the kids attending the grand opening, it wasn't so much the story of the mammoths. It was the size.

For the record, the bull mammoth stood close to 14 feet tall, with teeth like bricks. That fact, along with others about the mammoths, prehistoric times, archaeology, and discovery, are areas that Dr. Ellie Caston, director of the Mayborn Museum, hopes inspires children who visit.

There are many future plans for the site, including water taxis down the river to an entry point, more trails, and more exhibits, but for now, it's open to the public Tuesday through Saturday, closing nightly at 5. You can see a photo gallery of the Mammoth Site at our website, kwbu.org. For KWBU news, I'm Derek Smith.

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