On a Tuesday in September 2017, I took a spontaneous day long road trip to the city of Waco, Texas, and especially the Waco Mammoth National Monument.
The hour-and-a-half drive south of Dallas gave me a chance to see and do as much as I could and still be home in time to catch the 9 o’clock evening news.
Since I hadn’t been to Waco in over 20 years, I had to make my first stop at the Waco Mammoth National Monument.
I had heard over the past several years that there was a new museum of sorts that housed a bunch of prehistoric Mammoth bones. Fossils have always fascinated me, so I had to make time to check this place out.
First, let me help you avoid getting lost or wasting valuable time.
If you are planning on using Google Maps you should know the directions are not 100% accurate.
Google Maps lists the address as 6220 Steinbeck Bend Drive or 6814-6844 Bogey Lane.
The correct location for the entrance to the main welcome center is the Steinbeck Bend Drive location.
However, as you are driving, you should look for street signage that says FM (Farm to Market Road) 3051 AKA North Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard.
This is super important to make a note of as it is very typical for Texas roads to start out as one name and then become 2 more all while heading in opposite directions.
So if you are on Interstate 35, whether you’re coming from the North or the South, you will look for the exit sign that says Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard (Lake Brazos Parkway).
Once you take that exit you need to head West onto Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard and travel a little over 5 miles.
You will cross over the Brazos River, pass a fenced-in area called the Hot Dog Park and soon you will see (on the south side of the road) the sign for the Waco Mammoth National Monument
If you’re waiting for Google to tell you when to turn it will take you past the main entrance so stay aware, look for a paved road opening just before the main sign and then follow the road and additional signage.
There is no way to get lost once you are within the gates. Just stay on the paved road and follow the curves around to the main parking lot.
I found there to be plenty of free parking and could see the entrance to the welcome center from the parking lot.
Once you’ve parked, the welcome center is just a 40-60 foot walk (depending on where you parked).
There is wheelchair access and plenty of grassy spots to let your pets have a potty break or stretch their legs (pets on a leash are welcome).
Park Ranger guided tours are every 30 minutes at a cost of $5 per adult person (kid & senior discount prices available) or you can tour parts of the area on your own for free.
However, the only access to the actual mammoth dig shelter site is by guided tour only.
You can purchase your tour tickets along with some nifty souvenirs or postcards from within the welcome center.
Inside you will also find an array of Waco related city maps and tour guide brochures I found to be helpful.
Clean restrooms are available at the welcome center and a cute little excavation station just outside the center doors.
There is also a pavilion with picnic tables with free coloring books and information sheets (photo) for kids and anyone interested.
Anyone can take advantage of the opportunity to become a “Junior Ranger” by completing one of the Center’s free educational activity books.
This activity book coincided with the guided tour.
The Park Ranger will provide answers and clues to the many fun questions within this book. Complete the tour and fill out the activity book and the Park Ranger will “Grade” it for you.
They will then sign off on the official Junior Ranger certificate inside the same activity book.
Makes for a neat souvenir & story!
For my guided tour, myself and 5 others rode in what I can only describe as the limo of the golf cart world (photo).
We drove some 200 yards down a paved path to an open amphitheater where we made a quick stop to take in our surroundings.
Our wonderful tour guide, Kim, told us about the history of the area and provided us with some details of a few prehistoric creatures including the existence of armadillos that were the size of Volkswagen Beetles back in the day.
After a few minutes, and a couple of selfies later, we all loaded back up into our limo and headed further down the paved path towards the “Dig Shelter”.
When we got close enough to the entrance of the shelter our guide parked the cart.
From there we were ushered about 20 feet, by foot, through to a walkway that hovered over the actual ravine where the first mammoth bone was discovered.
Our guide took a few minutes to tell us the story of the ravine and the men who made the amazing discovery (photo).
After standing out in the 93°F (even in the shade) for just those few minutes we were all anxious and excited for our guide to lead us into the temperature controlled dig shelter.
As we walked in we were greeted by the rush of the 76°F cool air and the sight of an enormous, life-size mural of the Columbian Mammoth (photo).
Across from this mural is the railing where you can stand, peering down about 7 feet at several identified mammoth remains.
The guide provides relevant information about each of the mammoths and other artifacts on display.
A presentation red pointer light is also used by the guide to point out parts of the dig site and helps the tour guests recognize bone structures.
There are excavation tools left out on display around the site as well as signs indicating other species that were present within the discovery.
I don’t want to give too much of the tour away because that is the best part.
During my tour, there just happened to be a college intern working on some preservation projects in a newly created mini-lab of sorts.
This was interesting to be able to watch a young paleontologist at work.
In the end, the entire tour lasted approximately 45 minutes and left me with an academic sense of achievement.
The best part of it all is that for 5 bucks:
- I was educated on Columbian Mammoths,
- given a mental image of a mutant armadillo that will forever haunt me,
- chauffeured in a limo-style golf cart,
- lost about a quarter of a pound of pure sweat
- and left there with a brochure that had a coupon for two free Texas postcards redeemable at a shop in downtown Waco that I was already planning on visiting.
So I would easily say I got my money’s worth and I know you will, too.
The Waco Mammoth National Monument is open 7 days a week but closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas & New Year’s Day.
Their hours are 9:00 am to 5:00 p.m. For more info or help planning your visit go to www.NPS.gov