Columbian Mammoth silhouettes line these freeway overpass fences in nod to actual mammoth fossils found nearby in Madera County.

If you’re driving on Highway 99 in Merced County, look up on the freeway overpasses between the cities of Plainsburg and Le Grand, and you’ll see silhouettes of Mammoths.

But, why?

Here’s a photo of the Mammoth silhouettes I saw earlier this month driving home from Southern California.

The silhouettes of the mammoths as seen through the windshield of a 2024 Subaru Forester.

Also, here’s a Facebook post from the Fossil Discovery Center of Madera County showing the Mammoths off.

“If you haven’t seen them yet, there are now Columbian Mammoths on SR-99 at exits 179 and 176 (Plainsburg road and Le grand road). Credit goes to Caltrans, District 10 and the Madera County Arts Council for erecting these beautiful silhouettes.”

And here’s a screenshot of the Mammoths off of Google Maps from the Plainsburg Rd. site. (Exact location on Google Maps linked here.)

A closeup of the mammoths off the freeway.

You may mistake them for elephants, but they are, in fact, mammoth silhouettes, Columbian Mammoths to be exact.

It’s not random, Columbian Mammoths were chosen on purpose because, according to CBS News, back in November 2012, Caltrans workers actually found mammoth bones, among other fossils, at a construction project on Highway 99.

When it happened,

“Caltrans stopped construction once the bones were unearthed. Scientists were then called in to document, catalog and remove the fossils

Along with mammoth bones, paleontologists also identified the partial remains of dogs, horses, bison, camels, and antelope. While not unheard of, scientists say it was unusual to find so many ice age fossils in Merced County.”

In total,

“…over 15,000 fossils have been discovered, making the Fairmead landfill one of the most significant fossil beds on the West Coast.”

To honor this historic moment, in 2021 Caltrans commissioned these Mammoth Silhouettes to be added as part of the Plainsburg-Arboleda Mitigation project.

“It (the project) would also install silhouettes of extinct Columbian mammoths to the Le Grand and Plainsburg freeway overpass fences”

As far as I know, there are two places you can find displays of these Mammoth Bones; at the UC Merced Library and at the Fossil Discovery Center of Madera County.

A Mammoth Bones exhibit was added to UC Merced Library in 2017 and remains a permanent exhibit.

Along with fossils, the Fossil Discovery Center of Madera County has a full sized display (replica) of a Columbian Mammoth that towers 14-feet above visitors.

If you feel so inclined to make a visit to either place, the UC Merced Library is open 7 days a week during the academic year (hours found here) and the Fossil Discovery Center of Madera County seems to only be open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (hours and information via Yelp found here.)

H/T – Everything (GOOD) Merced


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