Waco Mammoth National Monument
Location: Waco, TX
Price: Free but the guided tour cost
Smashed Penny Machine: Yes, in the gift shop
This national monument is fairly new (established in 2015) and on the smaller side. The park is technically free but you have to go on the guided tour to see the dig site, which is really most of the park. The tour is very reasonably priced with the most expensive ticket being a general adult at $5. There are discounts for seniors, military, educators and students. You cannot use a National Parks Pass for the tour fee. You purchase your tickets at the gift shop which also serves as restrooms, water refill station and ranger station. The gift shop is small so if you have a larger party or it seems busy I’d have only one member go in to purchase the tickets.
On the day of our visit, tours were leaving about every 45 minutes. Tours begin at the pavilion in front of the gift shop. There are several benches and picnic tables in the shade if you have a wait. There was also a tent set up outside with a ranger who had fossils and replicas. Everyone was encouraged to examine the fossils while the ranger explained what they were. The kids were allowed to touch all the fossils. Behind the tent was a small sand box that was gridded off like a dig site where kids could use the tools to excavate “fossils” themselves.
Our tour had about twenty-five people on it. The tour begins with an easy walk along a paved path to a small amphitheater. The tour pauses at the amphitheater where you can take a seat along the benches in the shade. Here the tour guide explained what the area would have looked like when the mammoths roamed the area and explained the differences between the two types of mammoths. The tour then continues to the dig site building with a brief stop on the bridge to point out where the first fossil discovery happened. The rangers require everyone to leave all food and drinks outside the dig building since it is an active archaeological dig.
The tour through the dig site is on an elevated walkway that overlooks the actual dig. The tour guide covered an number of topics on this part of the tour including which fossils we were seeing, what scientist think happened to the mammoth herd found here and general information about the time period. Once the tour is over, you are free to continue to walk around the dig building as long as you want. The ranger stayed on site to answer any questions. Our ranger, a retired schoolteacher, did an excellent job engaging our older daughter during the tour and helping her complete her Jr Ranger book. In the dig building there are also two really cool murals. The first was a full scale mammoth. This was next to the walkway so you could see how you sized up against a mammoth and made a neat picture. The second was over the dig site and depicted what the herd might have looked like. After you exit the dig site building you return along the same path to the visitor’s center. The path is completely paved and a very easy walk. The tour was about an hour of standing and walking and was completely handicap accessible so you bring a stroller for little ones if needed.
Overall: This park was very nice and the staff was very friendly and helpful. Despite it being a smaller park we spent about two hours here with the tour and looking around at the fossils and playing in the dig pit. If you are in the Waco area I would highly suggest stopping by to check out this park.