Tag Archives: Agate Fossil Beds

Welcome Waco Mammoth National Monument as the 408th National Park

A mural of what the Columbian Mammoth herd may have looked like at Waco.  Photo from nps.gov
A mural of what the Columbian Mammoth herd may have looked like at Waco. Photo from nps.gov

Its amazing to think that less than one year ago, there were not any  national parks specifically dedicated to mammoth fossils – and now there are two!  The first is the Tule Springs Fossil Beds near Las Vegas, Nevada, which was established by Congress in December 2014.  The second is the newest unit of the National Park System, the Waco Mammoth National Monument, which was established by Presidential Proclamation under the Antiquities Act on July 10, 2015.  Prior to 2014 there were six national parks specifically dedicated to fossils in the name of the park, but all of them from eras predating the age of the mammoths:

By contrast,  mammoths lived  in North America during the Pleistocene time period, from about 2 million years ago to around 10,000 years ago.  Specifically, the mammoths at Tule Springs died approximately 250,000 years ago and the mammoths at Waco died approximately 68,000 years ago.   The mammoths at both sites are considered to be Columbian Mammoths, a species of mammoth that is related to the smaller, but more-famous, Wooly Mammoths that lived in Siberia and northern North America.  Likewise, both sites would predate the arrival of the first humans to the Americas, which different theories date as occuring anywhere between 12,000 years ago to as much as 40,000 years ago.

In addition to the age of their respective mammoth fossils being hundreds of thousands of years apart, two other things distinguish Waco Mammoth National Monument from Tule Springs National Monument and make them each unique in their own way.  First, Tule Springs is currently almost completely undeveloped.  It has no visitor center, and no displays of exposed fossils, whether in situ (still in the ground) or anywhere else.  Visiting it requires some hiking and some imagination. The second is that the Waco site preserves a nursery herd of mammoths – the only known such fossils of its kind in the United States.  This makes the fossils here especially valuable, as they tell us a great deal about how mammoths reproduced, raised their young, and how they lived with others.

The Waco Mammoth Site features displays of mammoth fossils still located in the ground.  Photo Credit: E. Wilson
The Waco Mammoth Site features displays of mammoth fossils still located in the ground. Photo Credit: E. Wilson

 

Although these are the first two national parks specifically dedicated to mammoth fossils, it turns out that mammoth fossils can be found as a secondary feature at a few other national parks.  Among the most notable is Channel Islands National Park.  Although most visitors to Channel Islands National Park, located off the cost of Los Angeles, California, either go for the scenery, or perhaps for activities like sea kayaking, hiking, or whale watching, 40,000 years ago the Channel Islands were home to the Pygmy Mammoth, a species found nowhere else in the world.

There are also two other national parks that are dedicated to the archeology of the peoples who hunted mammoths.   Bering Land Bridge National Preserve is in one of the remotest corners of western Alaska, and preserves the archeological legacy of the first American settlers who likely followed herds of wooly mammoths across the Bering Land Bridge at the end of the last ice age.   The second is Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument in the panhandle of north Texas, where some of the earliest Americans obtained flint for their spearheads with which to hunt the Columbian Mammoths found at Waco and at Tule Springs.  Naturally, the presence of humans at both sites indicates that they are much more recent than the two new national monuments dedicated to mammoths.

Likewise, it should be mentioned that perhaps the most-famous mammoth fossil site in the United States is not part of the U.S. National Park System.  Mammoth fossils have been found at the La Brea tar pits near Los Angeles, California which is now part of the Page Museum.  The fossils there also date from relatively recent history, from between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago.

Mammoths were also featured by the National Park Service as part of the 2012 National Fossil Day artwork.  According to their info, mammoth fossils have also been found at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve in Colorado,  Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on the Utah-Arizona border, and of all places, Valley Forge National Historical Park in Pennsylvania.

Nevertheless, very few visitors to these Parks would have come away with any deeper appreciation for the way in which mammoth fossils are found, or for the ways in which mammoths lived and thrived in this country, literally for millions of years.   Waco Mammoth National Monument in particular will provide an outstanding opportunity for education about these wonderful creatures.

Its fascintating to think about how sites like Waco Mammoth connect to our present-day world.   Although these were not the Wooly Mammoths of Siberia, its still amazing to think of these giant beasts living in places like central Texas, Las Vegas, and southern California.  In fact, these giant beasts roamed here “only” a few tens of thousands of years, which really puts into context the tens of millions of years that separate us from the other fossil-focused national parks in the National Park System.

Another example of the outstanding mammoth fossils at the Waco Mammoth National Monument.  Photo credit: E. Wilson
Another example of the outstanding mammoth fossils at the Waco Mammoth National Monument. Photo credit: E. Wilson

 

(*) – It should be noted that a single fossil mammoth was found at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in 2002, but mammoths are not the primary focus of interpretation and education there.

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February 2015 Stamps: Roebling Bridge & Many More

The Roebling Bridge is an engineering marvel that is now preserved as part of the Upper Delaware Scenic & Recretarional River.
The Roebling Bridge is an engineering marvel that is now preserved as part of the Upper Delaware Scenic & Recretarional River.  Picture from 2006.

Eastern national has released its list of new Passport Stamps for the much of February, and the list includes a sizable 17 stamps, 14 of which are truly brand “new.”  Of the remaining 14, three are annivesary stamps, four others are for Trails and Heritage Areas, and the remaining seven are for new areas in national parks.

Headlining the list is a new stamp for the Roebling Bridge in the Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River.   Although  most people think of river-based national parks as being primarily about rafting, canoeing, and kayaking, the Upper Delaware SRR also includes notable historic sites like the home of author Zane Grey and the nearby Roebling Bride.  The Roebling Bridge is a true engineering landmark, constructed by the same John Roebling that would later go on to construct the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City.

Although in the modern day we are used to bridges that carry land vehicles over water, back in the heyday of canals, bridges were also used to carry water vehicles over water.  In the picture above, you can see that the modern-day roadbed was once used by canal boats crossing over the Delaware River, and the rebuilt wooden towpath can now be used by pedestrians.   Also rebuilt are the icebreakers at the base of the bridge:

 

The base of the Roebling Bridge contains icebreakers.   Picture from 2006.
The Roebling Bridge was built to carry canal boats over the Delaware River, which was often full of lumber being floated downstream.  The base of the Roebling Bridge contains icebreakers to protect the bridge in winter months. Picture from 2006.

The stamp for the Roebling Bridge gives the Upper Delaware SRR a total of three cancellations:  Beach Lake – where the park headquarters is; The Zane Grey Museum – in Lackawaxen, PA: and the Roebling Bridge – also in Lackawaxen.

Other new stamps this month include a new stamp for Hatteras Island at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina.  This will likely replace the existing stamp for Buxton, NC at the Hatteras Island Visitor Center, next to the iconic Cape Hattereas Lighthouse.  It remains to be seen if this will be a net new stamp for this park, or if it will join the existing stamps for Manteo (park headquarters), Bodie Island, and Ocracoke Island for a total of four.  A few years ago, there was also a fifth cancellation for the town of Nags Head, NC, but that stamp has since been lost or retired.

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site's preserved nuclear missile silo is one of the highlights of a visit to the park.  Phot Credit: National Park Service
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site’s preserved nuclear missile silo is one of the highlights of a visit to the park. Phot Credit: National Park Service

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota has added two cancellations this month.   This relatively new national park is the first dedicated to telling the story of the Cold War in the United States.   The first new stamp is simply labeled “Visitor Center,” and will no doubt be found at the brand new park visitor center that had a soft opening in November 2014.   If you are planning a trip to this park, you may want to plan a trip for September 26, 2015 and the official grand opening and dedication of this park’s first visitor center.  Up to this point, the Ranger Contact Station for the park had a stamp simply labeled “South Dakota,” which may now be replaced with the opening of the visitor center.

The other new stamp is for Launch Control Facility Delta-01.   This facility is only open during ranger-guided tours, so be sure to plan ahead!  This cancellation joins the existing stamp for Launch Facility Delta-09, which is the park’s missile silo, and the other major site within the park.

Magnolia Plantation in Bermuda, Louisiana is one of two plantations preserve at Cane River Creole National Historical Park
Oakland Plantation outside of Natchitoches, Louisiana is one of two plantations preserve at Cane River Creole National Historical Park.

Cane River Creole National Historical Park preserves two plantations in northwest Louisiana.  Officially, this park lists one new stamp, for Derry, LA – the site of Magnolia Plantation.  For many years, the Park has had a single cancellation available at both plantation sites, reading “Natchez, LA” on the bottom.  Natchez is the location of Oakland Plantation, which is the site with more-developed visitor facilities, including the only one of the two plantation sites that also offers house tours.  At one point in time, there was a cancellation for Bermuda, LA available at the Oakland Plantation, but it was lost or retired several years ago.  The issuance of a unique stamp for Magnolia Plantation thus gives this park a total of two cancellations.

Among the changes to the National Park System in the Defense Authorization Act for 2015 was a provision renaming First State National Monument to First State National Historical Park, and expanding it to include several additional sites.   This month, stamps with the new park name have been reissued for the existing sites at Dover Green in Dover, DE; New Castle Courthouse in New Castle, DE; and the Woodlawn Preserve in Wilmington, DE.  Additionally, stamps were ordered for two additional sites that are imminently to be added to this park: one for Kent County, DE to be at the Dickinson Plantation site, and another for Lewes, DE to be at the Ryves-Holt House.  John Dickinson was a signer of the US Constitution, and the Ryves-Holt House is reportedly the oldest house in the State of Delaware – so neither of these two new sites seem likely to get the blood racing.

In addition to all of the above stamps, there are three new anniversary stamps issued:

  • Chalmette Battlefield (part of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve) | 200th Anniversary 1815-2015 – for the 200th anniversary of the famous Battle of New Orleans that ended the War of 1812 and propelled Andrew Jackson to the Presidency.
  • Fire Island National Seashore | 50th Anniversary 1964-2014 – a stamp that seems a little late to the anniversary stamp party, but nonetheless commemorates 50 years of protecting beaches on the south shore of Long Island.
  • Agate Fossil Beds National Monument | 50th Anniversary 1965-2015 – a stamp that marks 50 years of protecting fossil mammals from approximately 20 million years ago in western Nebraska.

I posted last month my thoughts on the recent trend for anniversary stamps, so I won’t go into that topic again.

Finally, there are a few new stamps for Heritage Areas and Trails:

  • the Essex National Heritage Area in northeastern Massachussetts has a new stamp for the town of Beverly, MA.
  • the Coal National Heritage Area in southern West Virginia has a new stamp for the New River Gorge National River‘s Sandstone Visitor Center.
  • the Juan Bautista de Anza National HIstorical Trail marks the route of Juan Bautista de Anza’s 1776 expedition with more than 200 men, women, and children from Mexico to establish a new settlement at San Francisco Bay.   The first new stamp is for Atascadero, California in San Luis Obispo County where the Atascadero Mutual Water Company manges a stretch of the trail suitable for hiking.
  • The second Juan Bautista de Anza stamp is for Hacienda de la Canoa in Green Valley, Arizona.  This historic site has a new exhibit on the de Anza expedition.

With all of these new additions, we now estimate that there are 1,968 cancellations out there to explore.   Closing in on 2,000!

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