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Prehistoric fossil found at New Mexico reservoir, town approves park name change

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A group of unsuspecting campers made an accidental scientific discovery this week at a New Mexico reservoir that turned out to be a prehistoric elephant fossil.

As CBS News noted on Wednesday, a group of friends celebrating at a bachelor party were cruising by at the aptly-named (for this story, anyway) Elephant Butte Lake State Park, located about 150 miles south of Albuquerque, when they spotted what looked like a large tusk sticking a few inches out of the ground.

After doing a bit of digging, the group unearthed what appeared to be the remains of a large elephant skull and sent some photos to Albuquerque’s New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. Though the campers had originally thought they may have come across a woolly mammoth skull, the scientists who were notified say woolly mammoths “weren’t conducive” to that area and didn’t match up with the time period the skull looks to be from.

Instead, the skull appears to possibly be that of a nine-foot, 13,000-pound Stegomastodon from around the Ice Age.

The museum’s curator of paleontology, Gary Morgan, said the skull appears to be just about 100 percent complete and added that the museum may put the “very important scientific discovery” on public display. A group was also sent to the site to excavate the skull, which could weigh up to 1,000 pounds.

Meanwhile, in northern New Mexico, a town council has voted to change the name of a local park after critics expressed concern over its namesake’s history with Native Americans.

The Taos town council voted 3-1 on Tuesday to change the name of Kit Carson Park. Though the park has been named after Carson for years, a group criticizing the name made a presentation to the council about the explorer’s treatment of Native Americans and the “negative connotation” of the name among indigenous people in the area.

Carson is remembered as a trapper, explorer, scout, and soldier, among other things, but he is also a sensitive subject among the Navajo in particular because of the so-called "Long Walk," in which Carson marched over 8,000 Navajo men, women, and children 300 miles from Fort Canby in Arizona to Fort Sumner in New Mexico under the direction of Army Brigadier General James H. Carleton. About 300 people died along the way and the survivors were allowed to return a few years later following a treaty.

With the resolution, the park will now be known as Red Willow Park. The Tiwa word for ‘red willow’ gave founders the name Taos itself. There are multiple homages to Carson located throughout Taos and Carson himself is buried in the cemetery located at the downtown park.

Council member Fritz Hahn said the name change was about “trying to begin to reconcile the transgressions of the past.”

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