Monday, July 14, 2014

South Dakota Days 3 & 4 - Mammoths, Mining and Mini-Tunnels

Our third day in South Dakota took us south to the Mammoth Dig.  This site was found in the 70s, enclosed for protection and acts as an active dig site.  The concentration of Mammoth bones was due to a sinkhole that was created, trapping a few mammoths each year for a few hundred years.  So far, they've found 60+ tusk pairs and estimate the pit goes 60+ feet below where they've already excavated.  Interestingly, all the mammoths they've found so far have been young males.  
 A mammoth skull with teeth.  Who knew mammoth only have 4 teeth at any given time.
 Signs of Mammoth footprints in the sediment:
 This side of the pit was believed to be the shallower side where the bones really piled up as mammoths tried to escape:
 A woolly mammoth for scale:
 The kids had fun with the replicas they could hold!  Matthew with a tooth:
 Catherine with a rib:
 And a vertebrae:

 A Columbia mammoth replica:
 Digging for teeth and identifying them in the education center:

On our way to Wind Cave we got caught in our first South Dakota bison jam!  We had a good time watching the cowbirds find their meals on the backs of the bison:

And of course, who can resist the babies!

We took the "natural entrance" tour which is only slightly misleading as this is the only natural entrance to the cave:

 We actually entered through an airlock door built right next to it which was just fine with me.  While it is not windy in the cave itself, this little hole was blowing a nice amount of cold air out as we wandered by.

As we entered the cave, both Matthew and Catherine started crying.  I was pretty certain we would have to turn around 50 steps down but after James and I carried them for a bit (and their eyes adjusted), Matthew declared it "not scary" and Catherine "not creepy".  Eventually they both walked the cave themselves:

 The cave is best known for its box crystal formation which both kids got quite good at spotting, though really their favorite were the "popcorn" formations.

 When we got back we took one more train ride:
 Where Matthew insisted on some more pictures from Deadrock:

 After an afternoon swim and dinner, Catherine worked on her flower (okay, weed) press collection before bed:
And our other budding naturalist worked on his Smilodon excavation he picked up at the Mammoth site by lamp light:
The next day we headed out for a long, slow-ish drive back to Montana.  Now, most of the roads in the Black Hills are labeled scenic byways (and with good reason).  However, the scenic byway that would take us to the interstate via an old saloon town turned out not to be the scenic byway with 6 tunnels I had promised Matthew.  It all worked out okay as the tunnel drives could be done as a loop as we left town, which meant we could leave the camper.  Though technically the camper could have fit through the tunnels (the smallest is 8' 4") I'm super glad we didn't take it!  Driving through the tunnels with a minivan was nerve-wracking enough!  Approaching the first one:
 The second one is the real doozy:
 There's a parking area to check out the "eye" of the needles:
 And of course we stopped to do some climbing:

 A picture with our very bug covered windshield:
 Because we had left pretty early that morning, we could take time for James to pose for a picture for scale.  As we drove through we rolled down the windows and both James and I could touch the sides of the rock:
 View of the needles:
 The first 3 tunnels were on the Needles highway, the second 3 on the Iron Mountain Road.  These last three all offer a framed view of Mt. Rushmore as you drive through (seriously, South Dakota is full of moments where you begin to wonder what they could do with all their time, energy and engineering if they weren't busy building roads and blowing up mountains):

Our final stop was in Keystone for a gold mine tour.  We were required to wear hard hats for the tour:
 I thought it was a gimmick at first (all of Black Hills is full of weird, touristy junk) but due to low ceilings in the mine I would have ended up with a concussion without the hardhat.  Turns out this mine was a great example of a tourist trap as it only ever produced 7 or so ounces of gold when it was active and has probably made 20 times that as an "attraction".  However, it was a great and simple example of a drift mine and a perfect length for tired young kiddos.
 In a move slightly out of character for our shy boy, Matthew offered to help demonstrate the plunger.
Last summer we were able to spend a few weekends camping with friends who like to gold pan.  Matthew clearly remembered this and kept asking to go panning like his friends so we splurged on a pan of dirt:

 We found 6 gold flakes, the kids picked out some pyrite and then the kids filled the vial with lots of other stones they deemed highly valuable or pretty.
 At this point it was Sunday after 1:00pm and we were still almost 500 miles away from home so we drove past Mt. Rushmore one last time, picked up the camper and then headed home.  On the way home the kiddos worked on postcards for family, including one that documented the injustices of the aforementioned gold panning and how we only let the them take a few of the many rocks.  What can I say, 4 days of vacation fun and treats and we still ended up being the worst parents ever.  This gig never does get easier :-)

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