Mammoth Site/Wild Horse Sanctuary
Updated: May 6
The black hills of South Dakota include a lot of interesting destinations. Two of them are the Mammoth Site and the Wild Horse Sanctuary. We liked these two destinations for the following reasons:
1. Mammoth Site
Short Faced Bear
Other fossils and bones
Fossil dig for kids
2. Wild Horse Sanctuary
American White Pelicans
Native American ceremonial sites
Located in Hot Springs, South Dakota the Mammoth Site is an archeological treasure. We went on a whim because it was located near the Wild Horse Sanctuary and it was the best surprise we have ever had traveling. We didn’t know what we were getting into. At the entrance they don’t really give you a lot of clues. The main counter is in front with the gift shop to the right and a Mammoth skeleton in the back. To the left is a movie theater where they provide a video of the site.
The real attraction is behind closed doors. When you enter through the doors you will enter into a huge room with a walkway around the site. In the middle, there are bones scattered everywhere. It’s kind of like the scene in the Lion King where Simba travels into the darkness and finds all the skeletons. So, the story is that the site is a sink hole. All of the mammoths are males. They were removed from the Mammoth herd to wander the area alone and 1 by 1 fell into the hole and died. The Mammoth bones were preserved as bones due to the nature of the sinkhole. This is significant because fossils are not real bone.
In addition to the Mammoths, they have uncovered Giant Short Faced Bear, Camel, Llama, Wolf, and smaller animals, fish, and clams. The Giant Short Faced Bear can stand and look through a two story window. The bear is thought to be the main reason why humans had a hard time thriving during this period. The bear liked to eat people. Why and how did Camel end up here? We thought they were only in Africa. Amazing how this Earth and our continued research has changed the way we think about the past.
Finally, the kids were able to participate in a dig. There is a kid center adjacent to the mammoth site where kids can dig for bones. It is in a building and the dig sites are elevated from the ground so adults can watch from the perimeter while the kids dig with Mammoth Site Staff. The staff were perfect for our kids and brought them along in ways that created very happy memories. Basically, each little was equipped with a bucket, shovel and brush. They were instructed to dig and remove dirt into the bucket. When a bone was discovered they used the brush to expose the bone while being cautious to prevent damage to the artifact. After the bone was uncovered they were then tasked with trying to identify the animal it came from and also to name the bone. We recommend the dig if you have time.
Just a few minutes away is the Wild Horse Sanctuary. Based on their website the sanctuary is more restricted now. They only allow private tours or photography tours at a much more expensive rate. We were able to tour the sanctuary for $30 per person. Based on their website private tours are $200 per person. The people are nice and friendly. We were able to get on a small bus and tour the sanctuary with a couple other small groups.
The first thing you notice is the amount of work it takes to manage the herd. There is a significant amount of water and food delivery to the various locations on the range. Cisterns are used to provide enough water for the horses. Hay is delivered in large round bales to support the herd through drought conditions and winter.
The tour also showed a filming location for Hidalgo and the History Channel has also filmed here. There is an overlook where you can get a good view of the site. The buildings all look weathered and old as if they have been there for 130 years. Behind the filming site, is a canyon with a creek running through it. It seems more like a small river to us. However, in the creek we noticed a handful of Great White Pelicans. These birds are over five feet in length and have a wingspan of over 11 feet. We had binoculars and they were so large they looked more like big inflatables instead of real birds. Seeing these birds in the canyon from the overlook was one of the highlights of the tour.
The horses were fun to watch. We noticed that even in a herd of 50 horses they gathered in 3-5 packs. If you watch closely you will see an alpha and 2-4 other horses grouping with the alpha. They didn’t really organize as the larger group and they really assembled and bonded in smaller groups of 3-5. We were able to get out of the bus and get close to the horses and pet them and take photos. We also had fun watching the prairie dog colonies. They are everywhere and were squawking and communicating our presence to each other the whole time. I still wonder how the horses kept from breaking their legs in the prairie dog holes as they share the same pasture.
The Lakota Tribe called this area their home. The tour includes a site where the Lakota held ceremonies. Additionally, there are petroglyphs throughout the range. These petroglyphs were a surprise for us and were a step back in time.
The Wild Horse Sanctuary website is https://www.wildmustangs.com . According to their site, they have over 11,000 acres and 100s of horses on site. Currently the website shows they are not open to the public. However, if you are interested, there are tours available. Google maps is also fun to review as it shows the sanctuary, canyon, and you can zoom in and see the horses. Additionally, we hope you enjoyed our tour and the photos. Their mission to protect the horses is noble and one of a kind.
We really enjoyed these two experiences and did both in one day. Even though the Wild Horse Sanctuary is providing limited private tours don’t be disappointed if you don’t go. We had wished we had more time for the Mammoth Site. So, if you are reading this, reserve the whole day for the Mammoth Site and you won’t be disappointed. Let us know if you have questions and share your comments with us. Thank you for your time and we wish you the best in your travels.