The Black Hills constantly challenge visitors to decide whether an attraction sounds like a tourist trap or a worthy stop. While a privately owned fossil dig may make you suspicious, don't be. The Mammoth Site is well worth a visit. The story behind this museum is almost as fascinating as the findings. In 1974, a home builder was digging up ground when he came across some bones. He had them checked out, and it turns out the man had stumbled upon a prehistoric sinkhole holding the skeletal remains of 58 young male mammoths who had fallen in 26,000 years ago and been preserved intact. Today, a huge pavilion encloses the site, and an attached museum tells the history of the dig and how the mammoths got into the sinkhole. Four excavations take place each year where visitors can watch workers extract bones from the site, and travelers can even volunteer to get involved. This will continue for quite some time--the sinkhole is 65 feet deep; so far the site has uncovered 22 feet.
For kids, the tour of the active site can get a little dry. Good thing the Mammoth Site offers junior paleontology classes for $10 (plus museum admission, which is $8). They take place four times a day during the summer, and you have to make reservations because they are so popular. Kids follow enthusiastic staffers into a building filled with raised beds of dirt. Underneath, replica bones of mammoths await. Each child receives a set of tools: a scooper, a handheld broom, a trowel and a small paintbrush, and staff demos show them how to use each to uncover the bones. It's slow going at first because the bones are buried fairly deep, but once the discoveries start happening, the fun really amps up. Kids track which kinds of bones they find to a wall chart that helps them identify each piece, and when the hour is over, they received a junior paleontology certificate. It's a must-do activity at this already-cool site.