The large front door of the Dallas Museum of Natural History opens; a family enters. While her mother is paying, a young girl spots a Christmas tree decorated in origami animals -- pandas, frogs, hummingbirds, camels -- and runs toward it. She looks up and up, finally noticing the long, thick, shiny tusks curling around the tree's top, where a star or angel would normally be. Her big brown eyes travel up the tusks, meet another set of big, brown eyes; finally, she spots the shaggy brown hair of the woolly mammoth. The girl screams and screams, until finally her mother arrives, assuring her the beast is not real, not alive, and not going to eat the Christmas tree.
The museum certainly knows how to make the point (maybe too well for one little girl) that Elephants! is on display -- and that besides the African and Asian pachyderms, the exhibit also covers the elephants' ancestors and relatives. The first elephant arrived in North America in 1796, and by now they practically seem native. Nearly a thousand live on the continent, giving most children the chance to see one at the zoo, a circus, or a wildlife sanctuary, such as the Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison.
But not mammoths. Those hairy beasts seem almost mythical, though they are actually native to this land, having lived here until 10,000 years ago. A map in the exhibit shows the locations of 11 skeletons found in Dallas County, including ones found near Baylor Hospital, near Fair Park, and by the Trinity River near Loop 12. The skeleton of that last one is on permanent display at the museum -- well, 70 percent of it is. The other 30 percent is replicated. There is also a replica of an excavation site in Waco where 23 mammoths were buried in a mud slide; a cast of a mummified baby mammoth found in Siberia; and a diorama of the Hebior Mammoth, whose skeleton was found on a farm in Wisconsin cut by Paleoindian tools. The elephant may get the headlining slot, but the mammoth is the hometown hero in this exhibit.
Dallas Museum of Natural History,
3535 Grand Avenue.
Through February 6
10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
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