EL PASO, Texas - Sierra County officials anticipate more visitors to Elephant Butte Lake State Park and the surrounding area in the next few weeks following the discovery of an approximately 3 million year old Stegomastodon fossil at the park.
A group of campers recently discovered the Stegomastodon after spotting what looked like an exposed tusk in the sand.
The group started to dig and discovered an intact tusk and skull. They then contacted Paleontologists at the New Mexico Museum of History and Science.
The museum is working with the park and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation staff to excavate the fossil.
Officials at Elephant Butte Lake State Park say the skull was being dug out Thursday. It will be protected with plaster and transported to Albuquerque.
Media were invited on June 12 to visit the site, but asked to not disclose the location in an effort to preserve the site. Even after the fossil was removed, park officials are continuing to keep the location under wraps.
Sierra County officials say it is illegal on state and federal lands to conduct fossil digs and to remove fossils. However, because Elephant Butte has received national attention following the Stegomastodon find, officials hope visitors will want to learn more about the parks' history and take advantage of its many recreational opportunities.
"We are thrilled about the discovery of the Stegomastodon fossil," said Sierra County Chairwoman, Kim Skinner. "We look forward to the day when the public can view the Stegomastodon at an exhibit located at Elephant Butte Lake State Park - the city's ancient history is one of many fascinating features of the area."
"Bits and pieces of what we've been told are remains of Stegomastodons and fossils have been found as recently as 10 years ago, but nothing as complete or intact as this," said New Mexico State Parks spokesperson Beth Wojahn. "NM State Parks is thrilled to have this big of a discovery - and what a fitting place for an ancient elephant to be found than at Elephant Butte. We want to thank the campers who called the proper authorities and didn't compromise the integrity of the dig. This is history in the making - how often do you find something this complete?"
Wojahn said that NM State Parks would like to build an exhibit at the park where fossil discoveries like these can be displayed. She also said the park anticipates an increase in visitors who may be curious about the lake's history.
The Stegomastodon fossil was taken to the NM Museum of Natural History and Science where paleontologists will analyze it. Results of the analysis are expected to take up to six months to be completed.
According to the University of Nebraska State Museum, the Stegomastodon was a nine-foot tall, 13,000 pound prehistoric elephant that went into extinction approximately 3 million years ago.