Friday, November 19, 2010



Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, SD holds the actual, non-fossilized bones of around 50 mammoths. most of them are Columbian Mammoths and 4 are Woolies. I was not aware there was more than one kind, but we learn. The latter is smaller at about 11 foot to the shoulder, the former was around 15 feet. A modern Elephant is typically 8 so these were some massive beasts. The really big ones weighed about 20,000lbs but sadly they did not know a sink hole when they saw one.

This sink hole was created when the rock layers were pushed up by the action that also formed the nearby Rockies. One of the underlying rock strata was limestone that was eroded by a warm artesian (water under pressure from rock) well. This dissolved the limestone and formed an underground cave, the ‘lid’ of which later collapsed and formed a water-filled sink hole. The warm water provided a drink and year round grass, but the shale surrounding it was slippery and many a beast slipped, fell in, died and the hole filled with silica and calcium carbonate over the ages that acted like cement and a preservative.

It was found by accident 26,000 years later in the ‘70s when a property developer was cutting the earth and his son noticed a mammoth tooth. He had been trained in geology by an eminent mammoth expert so was just the man to be there at that moment. The developer sold the land to the project for the price he’d paid and it now stands as the largest mammoth site in the world.

The sink hole has only male skeletons. Apparently, it was female behaviour to stay in herds in the same area as they were born and so saw their share of itinerant males drop irrevocably into the pit and learned the lesson. They then communicated this useful nugget of information to their sisters and daughters so none of them made the same mistake. It’s believed that Mammoths, like modern elephants, can communicate.

The site is an active and working paleontological site attracting up to 1500 visitors a day and scientists from around the world who show up for a dig. We were 2 of only 2 visitors who showed up at this time today. This is one of the advantages of travelling in the winter!


Really jolly large





SD - mammoth graveyard2

This is about one third of the dig site

Another beast local to the area and which also succumbed to a terminal dip was the Short Faced Bear. This is an animal that could really ruin you day; taller, heavier and more bad-ass than the polar bear, he could grow to 15 feet if he reached for the stars and looked fearsome. He was no relation to the modern bears as all US continental versions died out and were replaced by their European cousins.

Here’s his skeleton:


He could weigh about 1,500lbs and would likely have a taste for human.  Thankfully, you’d have your trusty stick with a pointy rock on the end to repel this menace. 








After searching around Custer, SD for the brew-pub that Google promised us we found that it was out of business. We went to the Slate Creek Grille for Bison burger which is yum! Then it was off to a local state park to try to find a place to kip.

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