Mammoth Site, South Dakota

I recently discovered the Roadside America website/app (for iPhones) and it’s quickly become one of my absolute favorite references for finding weird/cool things/places to see/visit. While in South Dakota I took full advantage of my brother’s iPhone and we happened upon the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota.

The Mammoth Site is both a museum and an active paleontological site. More than 26,000 years ago, large Columbian and Woolly mammoths were trapped and died in a spring-fed pond. For centuries the bones lay buried, until discovered by chance in 1974 during excavation for a housing development when earth moving equipment exposed a fossil. Luckily, the Mammoth Site was preserved and today it is the world’s largest Columbian mammoth exhibit and a world-renowned research center for Pliestocene studies. To date, 61 mammoths have been identified, along with the remains of a giant short-faced bear, camel, llama, prairie dog, wolf, fish, and numerous other plant and invertebrate fossils.

I thought the coolest part of this site was the fact that it is both a museum and working dig site. There are programs each summer when volunteers come to the site to work – all under the curious gaze of the visiting public. It made for a rare opportunity to see work in progress and to gain a better understanding of exactly how such site are run. And, honestly, I found it way more interesting to see the bones in situ vs in a more clinical museum setting.

One of the most amusing facts of the whole tour (for me anyway) was that so far, all of the mammoths found have been male. Apparently they just happened upon this nice little water hole, thought to go for a swim, then couldn’t climb back up the slippery sides. Kind of a sad story, but for some reason it just seems like a very male scenario (sorry guys).

Overall, I definitely found this place to be worth the price of admission and a few hours of your time. If you have kids, even better!

P.S. I apologize for photo quality – the lighting here was all over the place and I only had my cell phone (rookie mistake not bringing an extra battery for the SLR – oops!).

Mammoth Site, South Dakota, archaeology

This model was totally surreal – those bones are just SO big!

 

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Wind Cave National Park

I must admit, when I originally planned this little road trip through western South Dakota, I had no idea just how much there was to see and do. In addition to Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park, there’s also nearby Wind Cave National Park.

Wind Cave National Park, cave

Wind Cave National Park is located in southwestern South Dakota near Black Hills National Forest and Custer State Park. Established in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt, it was the 8th National Park in the U.S. and first cave to be designated as a national park anywhere in the world!

Wind Cave National Park, cave

In 1881 Jesse and Tom Bingham were also attracted to the cave by the whistling noise of the air coming out of the cave. As the story goes, wind was blowing out of the cave entrance with such force that it blew off Tom’s hat. A few days later when Jesse returned to show this phenomenon to some friends, he was surprised to find the wind had switched directions and his hat was sucked into the cave. This change in movement of the wind is related to the difference in atmospheric pressure between the cave and the surface.

The cave is considered a three-dimensional maze cave, recognized as the densest (most passage volume per cubic mile) cave system in the world. It is currently the 6th longest cave system in the world with over 140 miles of explored cave passageways. An average of 4 new miles of cave are discovered each year (and if you find a new chamber, you get to name it!).

This maze of passages is home to boxwork, a unique formation rarely found elsewhere. Approximately 95 percent of the world’s discovered boxwork formations are found in Wind Cave.

Above ground, the park includes the largest remaining natural mixed-grass prairie in the U.S. Bison, elk, pronghorn, and prairie dogs abound, so drive carefully and enjoy the view from a safe distance!

This was another park I was totally unaware of until we happened to see it on the map. Being a huge fan of caves, I made sure we saw this one! The tours are guided and the guides are very knowledgeable. It is a wet cave and there are a lot of stairs, so be aware of that before you sign up. Entrance to the park is free but the tours are available for a small fee. The boxwork is pretty phenomenal and make it well worth a visit – especially if you enjoy caves!

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Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

While we were in the area visiting Mount Rushmore (my bucketlist item), my dad wanted to check off one of his own must see places – Badlands National Park.

Badlands National Park is located in southwestern South Dakota. It comprises approximately 244,000 acres (379 sq miles) of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles, and spires blended with the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the U.S. The area was established as a National Monument in 1939 and designated as a National Park in 1978.

Driving through the park you can spot bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs (who provide endless entertainment), and any number of birds. The park is also home to the black-footed ferret, once of the most endangered mammals in the U.S. In addition to these modern day animals, the park’s geologic deposits contain one of the world’s richest fossil beds. Ancient mammals such as the rhino, horse, and saber-toothed cat once roamed this area.

I admit, I didn’t really know much about this park prior to our visit (I was too busy / excited learning about Mount Rushmore). However, it was a truly pleasant surprise, particularly given the name! There was wildlife everywhere and the colors were simply stunning. It’s a particularly interesting area in that when you’re driving towards it (at least from Rapid City), you seem to come upon this area all of a sudden. Compared to the rolling grasslands surrounding it, this area does indeed seem like “bad land.” But this park is living proof that there’s good to be had everywhere, even in the “bad.” πŸ™‚

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Visiting Mount Rushmore

South Dakota, Black Hills, Mount Rushmore National Memorial

I’m not entirely sure where the fascination originated, but for the last few years Mount Rushmore hasΒ  been on the top of my bucket list. When we landed a project in eastern Wyoming, a mere hour or so away, I knew my time had come. So last month when I saw an opportunity to extend a work trip, I took it. My dad and brother (never ones to miss out on a road trip) joined me and together we set off to see the famous mountainside.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is located amongst the Black Hills of South Dakota. It features the faces of four U.S. Presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln – carved into the granite of face of Mount Rushmore (hence the name). Construction of the memorial began in 1927 and ended in 1941. Although the original design called for each president to be depicted from head to waist, a lack of funding forced construction to end.Β  These four presidents were selected (so the story goes) to represent the first 130 years of American history because of their role in preserving the Republic and expanding its territory.

South Dakota, Black Hills, Mount Rushmore National Memorial

I did enough research prior to our visit to know that the Mount Rushmore Memorial was relatively small (covering approximately 2 miles total), but I did overhear some other visitors who seemed a bit surprised. The National Park Service, who is in charge of Mount Rushmore, has built a lovely entryway with gift shops, a cafeteria, etc. and there are a couple of trails that lead around the mountainside giving visitors different scenic views of the sculpture. There’s also the Sculptor’s Studio, featuring a display of unique plaster models and tools related to the sculpting, which looks really neat (it was sadly still closed during our visit – it opens in June).

Overall, I was quite satisfied with our visit. It truly is an amazing sight to see, particularly when you realize just how large the heads are (60 feet!). I found it to be a fascinating feat of engineering and quite patriotic! We spent an afternoon wandering around, enjoying the trails, and stalking the wildlife for photos (smile). We didn’t make it back for the night show where they turn on the lights and have a short program, but I hear it’s pretty spectacular. The ice cream, however, is a definite must for any visit (it’s made from Thomas Jefferson’s original recipe)!

South Dakota, Black Hills, Mount Rushmore National Memorial

The memorial itself is free, but parking cost $11. Your parking pass is, however, good for a prolonged period of time in case you want to visit during the day and return at night for the lighting ceremony.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Spare Game

Wild Bill Hickok, Deadwood, South Dakota, Moriah Cemetery, coins

A few coins to spare?

Wild Bill Hickok, Deadwood, South Dakota, Moriah Cemetery, playing card in grass

Or perhaps a spare Ace??

Wild Bill Hickok, Deadwood, South Dakota, Moriah Cemetery

Wild Bill Hickok

“Wild Bill” Hickok was a legendary character from the Old West – a scout, lawman, gunfighter, and gambler. As the story goes, during a poker game at Saloon #10 in Deadwood, SD, the sniveling coward Jack McCall snuck up and shot Wild Bill in the back of the head. Hickok had arrived in Deadwood only a few weeks earlier, played a series of card games, and never in his life sat with his back to the door. Until that day. The hand of cards which Wild Bill supposedly held at the time of his death (black aces and eights) has become known as the “Dead Man’s Hand.”

You can visit Wild Bill’s grave and memorial at the Mount Moriah Cemetery, which sits on a hill overlooking Deadwood. Visitors leave spare change, playing cards, and other mementos on the memorial out of respect and as a token of good luck in their future gambles endeavors.

This week’s photo challenge is “spare.”

Happy weekend everyone!!

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Boneyard

Mammoth site, South Dakota, Hot Springs, black and white, bones, excavation, preservation

These guys were massive!

Mammoth site, South Dakota, Hot Springs, black and white, bones, excavation, preservation

An American Columbian Mammoth (well, except for a missing skull…)

Mammoth site, South Dakota, Hot Springs, black and white, bones, excavation, preservation

How many tusks can you spot??

This week’s topic is “open topic,” so I thought I would share a couple of shots from our exploration of the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota. Instead of excavating the site all at once and moving the discoveries off site to be studied, the archaeological team uncovers the bones and leaves them open (and preserved) for public observation. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can tour an active dig site! I’ll share more in a later post, but I couldn’t resist sharing a sneak peak today – this stop was definitely one of the highlights of our trip! So cool! πŸ™‚


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