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.
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:
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:
Our final stop was in Keystone for a gold mine tour. We were required to wear hard hats for the tour:
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: