Wild and Woolly

You're too young to remember it, but there were once seven-ton, 10-foot-tall woolly mammoths living a mile from downtown Hot Springs, S.D. Then about 26,000 years later -- in 1974 -- a construction crew found their large bone fragments (teeth and skulls and skeletal remains) and called for emergency paleontology.

Since then, the Mammoth Site -- where 44 woolly and Columbian mammoths once lived and died (trapped in a sinkhole) -- has continued to turn up mammoth fossils. Every July, Earthwatch volunteers pitch in to help the staffers unearth teeth the size of shoe boxes and 10-foot tusks, which then get preserved and classified.

The site is open to visitors year-round; by next summer, the full skeleton of a mammoth elephant will have been assembled. Tickets are $3.95 for adults, $1.95 for children 6 to 12 and $3.50 for seniors; or for $10 a year, you can join the Mammoth Site. For information: (605) 745-6017. Key Reservations

A toll-free reservation line for the Florida Keys is being offered on an experimental basis until Jan. 31. Operators have information on all the keys and can reserve anything from a campground space at less than $10 a night to a penthouse for $1,000 a night or more. The rest of us can choose from more than 300 B & Bs, condos, budget and luxury hotels. Call 1-800-FLA-KEYS (1-800- 352-5397).

A Lot of Night Music

Anyone who has ever tried to get opera tickets in Europe -- only to be laughed at by hotel concierges or trampled when standing room goes on sale -- thanks his lucky stars for the good old U.S.A. and Ticketron. European operas are heavily subscribed, and information on upcoming seasons is scant -- so although you might get lucky one night and hear the fat lady sing, you'll never get two weeks' worth of tickets for an opera tour of Europe.

Dailey-Thorp Travel appropriates the hassles, offering opera (and music) tours for insatiable, gotta-have-it-every-nighters as well as more casual operagoers -- maybe once every other night. Trips go to both the majors -- Bayreuth, Milan, Vienna -- and to lesser-known venues like Sicily. There also are longer sojourns in Europe, and quickie New York or San Francisco weekend fixes. The trips are not cheap -- a 17-day German opera blitz is $6,653 -- but then opera lovers would pay any price for Placido in Paris. Me, I'll take Ramey -- anywhere. Call (212) 307-1555 for a brochure.

TRAVEL TRIVIA With Venetian gondoliers only rowing on one side, what prevents them from merely going around in circles?

ANSWER BELOW TRIVIA ANSWER: THE LOPSIDED SHAPE OF THE HULL -- WITH ONE SIDE MORECURVED, THE OTHER FLATTER -- KEEPS THE COURSE STRAIGHT FREE FOR THE ASKING

"Virginia: A Tradition of Taste" lists country inns and B & Bs near the state's wineries and offers tips on what to do between tastings. Who says you have to go all the way to France for vintage history? The brochure is available free from the Virginia Division of Tourism, 1629 K St. NW, 659-5523.

NEWSLETTER NEWS

The editors of International Travel News -- a no-nonsense, plain-looking and -speaking magazine that is entirely reader-written -- will gladly send a free copy to anyone who asks. So go ahead, make their day: ITN, 2120 28th St., Sacramento, Calif. 95818, (916) 457-3643.