Dirt. My four year old daughter loves it. Any opportunity to dig in it, roll in it, dance in it or throw it makes her as happy as can be. So, when we recently wondered upon the Junior Paleontologist program at the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, it felt like we struck gold! The gal at the ticket counter upsold us just by saying, “Do you like to dig in the dirt?” So we signed up for this mini expedition to discover the world of Mammoths.
We started with the tour of The Mammoth Site, which is an active paleontological dig site. The site is a dried up sink hole where they have the largest concentration of mammoth remains in the world, with 61 total mammoths found so far. Besides both wooly and Columbian mammoths, fossils of other Ice Age animals have also been discovered including the giant short faced bear. The entire site is now enclosed by a climate controlled building, with the remains displayed just as they were found, giving a unique experience for the visitor year-round. The tour also includes an introduction video and entrance to the exhibit area that includes life-sized replicas.
After the tour we were off to become Junior Paleontologists with our guide Chris and ten other kids. The program is a simulated dig which allows kids ages 4 to 12 to learn how they excavate fossils at the Mammoth Site. They started off with an introduction asking the kids various questions about fossils and bones. Then it was off with the shoes and into the dig box. The kids were placed into groups of three or four for each section of the dig box. They were given the same types of tools used at the site and were taught proper excavation techniques. For my four-year-old, that simply involved digging her little heart out. They had an hour to excavate what they could. Our guide Chris and his helper walked around and assisted where they could. They helped the kids identify what they found. When my kids found something Chris came over and asked them what they thought it was. My daughter screamed in delight, “A BIG BONE!” Chris confirmed the big bone, and helped them to identify it as a tusk. After the hour was up my kids still hadn’t unearthed the entire thing. It was massive.
So, if your child has ever wondered what it would be like to touch the bones they see in museums, this is the program for you. Not only did it bring the Mammoths to life for my family, but it also made me realize the best getaways are the escapes from everyday life. The Junior Paleontologist program is available June 11th through August 15th at the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota located in the Southern Black Hills. For more information, visit www.mammothsite.com.