Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Black Hills: Mammoth Site and Wind Cave

Saturday we drove south through the Black Hills to visit the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, South Dakota. This is the largest ‘in situ’ (bones left as unearthed) Mammoth site in the world.

I had my doubts about taking the 30 mile track down south to see this but are very glad that we did.

This is a working archeological site. Of course, with us visiting on Saturday, there were no archeologists actually in the dig that day.

However, they do an excellent job with a very educational tour describing how this particularly large collection of prehistoric animal bones ended up in such a confined space which was basically a 90 foot wide sinkhole 10’s of thousands of years ago.

Almost all of the mammoths uncovered here have been determined to be male. Our guide joked that there were plenty of theories on why the male of the species were the one’s who ended up falling into the sinkhole.

The also found this huge prehistoric version of a bear in the hole. Since an animal with foot long claws like this should have been able to climb out of the hole, they theorize it may have gone in after a stuck mammoth that gave more of a fight than expected.

While this site’s goal is to uncover the bones but leave them where found, they create replicas like this one to show the size of the animals that have been found in the site.

They also have this replica of a bone hut which was a type of lodging assembled by the people living during this save period, intricately interweaving the bones of the large animals they hunted for food and hides.

Joel’s Dakota Grill, right next door to the Mammoth Site, was our stop for lunch.

After lunch we drove back north to Wind Cave. I was really interested in this cave because it is the place according to Lakota Indian legend where man and buffalo ascended onto the earth. In fact, we were later told by the guide at Tatonka that it is consider a sacred place by ‘the people’ who do not go down in to the cave for that reason.

We arrived in time for the 2:30pm tour which takes about 75 minutes.

A park ranger guides the tour providing a lot of details about the history of the cave which is currently the third longest in the world. I say currently because they regularly add to its length since there are still so many unexplored sections.

The natural entrance to the cave is only big enough for a small human to slide in to. If you see the small pine cone to the right in the picture below you get a sense of how small. My guys would not have to worry about exploring this cave if that was the only way in!

It is this entry where the cave got its name since since whenever there is a significant change in barometric pressure the wind whistles in or out of this entrance making a noise that can be heard for quite a distance.

This cave takes you down more than 20 stories deep in to the earth.

This was Trevor’s first cave experience and he discovered early on in the tour that he is much more claustrophobic than he realized. There are a lot of tight spaces to walk through that these big had to squeeze through. Trevor’s opinion was pretty clear with the steady tirade of spelunking being the stupidest sport ever conceived.

Trevor obviously gets this from his father’s side of the family since Ken had opted to stay in the jeep and take a nap while we did the tour!

Having done several cave tours over the year, I wasn’t particularly impressed with this cave myself. As a biology major, Kyle had several caving adventures below and had a similar opinion to mine that the cave was ok but certainly not a highlight of our trip.

However, it does provide a glimpse to a very unique stone formation shown here known as ‘boxworks’. This cave has more of this rare formation that anywhere in the world. You can see how it got its name, looking almost like corrugated box dividers.

Thank goodness, after a final wrapup at the lowest point in the tour, we were able to take an elevator back up to the surface.

It was our intention, after a full day of touring to drive in to Hill City to get a steak at the highly recommended Alpine Inn. However, there was such a line outside the door awaiting the 5pm dinner seating that we decided it wasn’t worth the wait and picked up some steaks at the local market

Ken and I did FIVE loads of wash in a very nice Rafter J laundry facility

while the boys worked out, showered, and then made dinner for us.

The Alpine Inn has nothing on the Frericks brothers grilling a few local choice ribeyes on the grill.

After another full day of enjoying the Black Hills, Ken and I retreated to our bedroom early while the guys watched a movie.

Tomorrow we will be packing up camp to move north to Sturgis and Deadwood.

Hugs, C

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