You can almost hear them, and sense the rain coming, says Ellie Caston, who helped preserve this mammoth site in Waco, Texas. She is imagining the first group of Columbian mammoths found here as they were 65,000 years ago, as adult females surrounding their young. Like today’s elephants, the adults encircled the young to protect them. But on that long-ago day, they all died.
Since the bones were discovered, scientists have been studying them and the surrounding area to find out what killed the animals. Maybe it was a flash flood from a storm, as Caston was thinking. Or perhaps it was a drought. These bones and their hidden stories led to establishing Waco Mammoth National Monument in 2015a place where science and wonder come alive.
Paul Barron recalls how he and Eddie Bufkin felt in 1978 when they found a big fossil while exploring this area. They took it to Baylor University, where scientists recognized it as a leg bone of a Columbian mammoth.
The scientists organized an excavation, but kept the details secret to protect the site from poachers. They also protected the fossils by encasing them in plaster jackets. They lifted the jackets out of the pit and trucked them to safekeeping in Baylor’s museum storage. Those bones are still there in their plaster jackets. One day, scientists will have the time to study them and see what other stories they might tell.
Texas During the Ice Ages
Columbian mammoths lived during the Pleistocene Epoch, a time also called the ice ages. The climate here was warm 65,000 years ago, not cold and icy. Mammoths roamed a vast area of grasslands and woodlands, along with other mammals like the camels, dire wolves, and saber-toothed cats shown above.
Fossils and other evidence at Waco show that a new glacial period was beginning around 50,000 years agothe last great icy time before modern times. Grasses were still abundant, but cooler-weather plants became part of the mammoths’ diet too. It is rare to have so much evidence of a changing climate in one place. This is another reason why Waco Mammoth National Monument was established.
Visiting the Mammoths of Waco
Welcome! Everything you see here is thanks to the people of Waco, Texas, who worked over 35 years to protect this site. Now the National Park Service, the City of Waco, Baylor University, and the Waco Mammoth Foundation work in partnership to conduct research, run the welcome center, and offer tours and programs.
Waco Mammoth National Monument is open daily, 9 am–5 pm, except Thanksgiving, December 25, and January 1.
Start at the welcome center to sign up for a Dig Shelter tour, which is the only way to see the mammoth bones. A small fee is charged.
Other Things to Do
Come back often to enjoy new programs, trails, and opportunities as this new national monument develops.
Fees Tour fees are not covered by National Park passes. Call or check the park website for current fees. Children 3 or younger are free.
Weather In summer, bring plenty of water, wear a hat and sunscreen, bring insect repellent. In winter, be prepared for rain.
Pets Leashed pets are allowed on the grounds, but not on the tour. Do not leave pets in vehicles or tied up.
Firearms For firearms regulations check the park website.
Accessibility We strive to make our facilities, services, and programs accessible to all. For more information, call or check the park website.
Related Sites in Waco
Baylor University’s Mayborn Museum Complex
Cameron Park, City of Waco
Source: NPS Brochure (2018)
Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards
Foundation Document, Waco Mammoth National Monument, Texas (September 2016)
Proclamation 9299 Establishment of the Waco Mammoth National Monument (Barack Obama, July 10, 2015)
Waco Mammoth Site Special Resource Study Newsletter #2 (August 2007)
Handbooks ◆ Books
Last Updated: 02-Dec-2021