Exploring a dry Texas creek bed in 1978, two young men found bones clearly too large to have come from a cow. A museum staffer at nearby Baylor University identified them as the remains of a Columbian mammoth, an extinct species that grazed here during the Ice Age. Excavations have since uncovered almost two dozen others, including a herd that died together about 65,000 years ago. The arrangement of the bones suggests that adult females surrounded their young, perhaps defending them from a rumbling flood that proved lethal.
To protect the site, its location was kept quiet until it opened to the public in 2009. The city of Waco, the university, and a fund-raising foundation developed the park and petitioned the National Park Service to adopt it. “It was as turnkey as we could ever get,” says NPS curator Greg McDonald—that is, already up and running as it entered the national system. The local groups will now help run it, a new NPS approach to managing such treasures. The future is likely to bring new excavations, as old bones continue to erode from the soil.