Needles Eye – near Hill City, South Dakota

Just north of Wind Cave is Custer State Park.  I drove through a portion of the park called the Needles Highway.  It was kind of boring for a while but got interesting real quick.

Huge rock formations, molded by nature into amazing shapes and configurations.  The highlight of the park is this rock which has developed a hole which looks like the eye of a needle.  It is ginormous!!

There were many scenic overlooks and I did stop at several to take pictures, but once again – the photos don’t do it justice.  This would be another spot I would recommend that everyone check out for themselves.

Wind Cave National Park

I saw this guy resting by the road.  Fortunately I didn’t disturb him when I stopped to take a picture from the car (he wasn’t very far away).

Wind Cave is one of the lesser known National Parks.  It is north of Hot Springs, SD.  It is relatively small compared to other parks, although it does contain the largest remaining mixed-grass prairie in the United States.  There IS a large cave under the property which experiences strong wind currents in and out of the entrance due to atmospheric changes, hence the name.  In fact, the cave is the 6th longest in the world and contains 95% of the world’s calcite formations known as “boxwork”.  It is also what is known as a three-dimensional maze cave.  (See, the things you learn on JohnBoy’s blog…). I did not go in the cave.

I did, however, follow the advice on the map of the park and after driving the entire paved portion of the road ventured off on to two unpaved roads (approved for visitors).  The map stated that one might have a better chance of spotting wildlife on these less traveled roads, and it was right.  Not long after seeing this dude I saw a large herd, probably 50 or more, including many young bison.  I have pictures but they were pretty far off the road.  I did get to use my spiffy new binoculars, though, and the bison were fun to watch.

I saw more bison later in the day, as well as some wild burros – all of them free range.  Didn’t see any other critters except more prairie dogs.  It was mid-day and I suspect the pronghorn (antelope), elk and coyotes were sheltering in place.  It wasn’t nearly as hot today, only 84 for the high.  Yesterday the afternoon rain storms passed south of where I was and today they passed by north of me.  Once I continued north and got in the rain-cooled air it dropped into the low 70’s and I could open the sunroof for the rest of the day.

The Mammoth Site – Hot Springs, South Dakota

This is an active archeological site where a land developer stumbled upon a treasure trove of Mammoth bones.  The developer bought the land with the intention of building apartments (outside Hot Springs).  They hadn’t dug very far when they uncovered a large  bone, contacted a nearby university and discovered the significance of the find.  The developer sold the land to a non-profit for what his cost was and the dig was on.

It is a long story (like 26,000 years long).  Basically, the tectonic shift which created the Rockies (and the Black Hills here in SD) ultimately caused a large sinkhole to develop.  This hole filled with water and it is believed many Mammoths, as well as other animals, literally fell in and couldn’t get out.

So far (since 1974) they have found the bones of 61 Mammoths.  By examining the bones paleontologists have determined that all were male and all were adolescents.  The age is determined by the teeth and the gender is determined by the size of the hip bones. 58 of the Mammoths were Columbian (among the largest of Mammoths) and 3 were Woolly Mammoths (about 1/3 larger than an elephant).

They’ve only scratched the surface (pun intended).  They have drilled down and found  there is a long way to go.  The tour was fascinating and I was glad I went.

Woolly Mammoths are fixin’ to make a big comeback, ya know…

What really piqued my interest in this was that the author of a new book on the Woolly Mammoth was recently on TV and said they might be able to create new Mammoths using DNA from bones found when ice melted in the Arctic (they can’t get DNA from the Hot Springs bones because they were in non-frozen water for so long).  The author said they might be able to create new Mammoths similar to the way it was done  in the movie Jurassic Park (well, he didn’t EXACTLY say that…).

And we all know how that turned out!