Friday, September 7, 2007

A Golden Day in the Black Hills

Wow--today was so full that I can hardly remember what we did this morning!! Luckily I snuck in that little blog entry to remind me.

The Mammoth Site was really awesome. The site was discovered by a farmer, who was planning to build a subdivision when his tractors kept "hitting things". It was a former sinkhole where scores of Columbian Mammoth bones have been found. He gave it to the state government with the condition that anything found at the site remain at the site. So it is now an archaeological museum, with the building built over the actual dig site. In the basement is the research lab where the bones are cleaned up and studied. They still haven't finished digging up the bones, and both Earthwatch and Elderhostel run trips there every July with people who are then trained to unearth the bones.

You should be able to pick out the skulls with the large tusks in this photo

One of the most interesting tidbits was that all of the skeletons found are of male mammoths! The female guides say it's because the males wouldn't stop and ask for directions, so they fell into the sinkhole! The male guides say it is because the females pushed them in . In reality, our guide (a woman) said the latter was closer to the truth--the majority of skeletons are of "adolescent" males, too young to challenge established bulls, but too old to remain with the herd. The oldest females run the life of the herd, and they would have kicked out the young males, who then had no guidance and fell into the sinkhole.>
An almost complete skeleton (from bottom: leg bones, pelvis, spine, ribs--only the head is missing!)
Deb's height compared to a Columbian Mammoth

After we finished our visit at the Mammoth Site, we headed north into Wind Cave National Park, and stopped to take a tour of the cave. That, too was very interesting. The cave is much dryer than places like Howe or Luray Caverns--there are no stalactites or stalagmites. Instead, there is an unusual formation known as boxwork, which was very beautiful to look at--even though it reminded me of moths' wings! Boxwork at Wind Cave

I thought the historical information the guide gave us was just as interesting as the geology. Here is a photo of some graffiti from 1882--the names were of the young man who discovered the cave when he was 16, and subsequently explored 10 miles of it, mapping and recording it all; and his tour group. Some of the names of the latter have been found in the old guest registers in a hotel in Hill City!

After our tour, we had a quick lunch, then continued up through the park on our way north. We passed huge prairie dog colonies, and then suddenly, we saw this guy grazing by the side of the road. I stopped Mo, and jumped out to take this photo. Don't you love the sign? We left the national park, and drove up to Hill City, a funky touristy town with a lot of art, jewelry, restaurants, and of course shops of all kinds. I did some souvenir shopping, and got a way-cool cowgirl hat with rhinestones, LOL! It is so cute!!!. Then we had to make a detour (planned) back to Rapid City to get the wire connection gizmo that Joe had looked for in the morning (the auto parts place in Hot Springs didn't have it, but they referred him to their branch in Rapid City.) The subsequent hour was spent doing some more work on our flukey alternator/voltage regulator combo. I don't want to give it the evil eye by writing more, but it might be fixed.

Oh--almost forgot! On the drive up to Hill City, we passed the Crazy Horse Monument. We didn't stop, but you don't really have to stop-- the head of the statue is so totally gigantic that it is clearly visible from the highway. The overall size of it close up must be mind-boggling. And for those wondering why we didn't go to Mt. Rushmore--we did both see it before. I understand the new evening program they have is pretty terrific, but as you can tell, we felt we hardly had time for anything! There is just so much to do here.

The sad part of having to deal with the regulator is that it took away a couple of hours from our Black Hills day. We left Rapid City and drove back into the Hills, up to Deadwood. I had been eager to walk the streets with the article I'd found in the Forward newspaper, talking about the Jewish presence in early Deadwood. But we got here at dusk, and it seemed like exploring the cemetery wasn't such a hot idea (Deadwood IS haunted, you know!)

However, we once again stopped at a KOA, and although the ambience leaves a lot to be desired (let's face it, it's a parking lot!), the people are great, and there was a shuttle down into town. So as soon as we parked and walked Roxy, we went into Deadwood for a steak dinner, which seemed the most appropriate meal in such a place.

I hadn't realized that Deadwood was like a mini-Las Vegas. The entire historic district is filled with casinos. So I'm not sure i missed that much in terms of historical touring. Nevertheless, I would like to come back again some day--there was SO much we didn't or couldn't do today, including drive through Custer State Park, which is supposed to have incredible wildlife. I'm already planning a return trip to this part of the world someday soon--it seems definitely do-able for a 2 week vacation!

Tomorrow's plan: up early, and head for Wyoming. A stop at the Devil's Tower National Monument, and then on to Thermopolis.

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