What? This isn’t Mt. Rushmore???

For those of you hoping to see pictures of Mt. Rushmore, sorry to disappoint you – I did not go there.  I was there many years ago and my recollection is that even if you pay to park and pay to get in you still aren’t all that close to the mountain and pictures on a cell phone probably wouldn’t be very good.  I saw a postcard with the view from a tunnel and the heads in the background which was pretty cool.  Well, I risked my life in that narrow (and I mean narrow) tunnel and the picture I took is nothing like the postcard.  Some things are just better left to professional photographers.  If you’re really desperate I’ll send you the postcard.

I also decided not to go to the Crazy Horse Memorial for the same reason.  I saw a picture on the brochure and thought that was good enough for me.

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This morning I drove up to Ellsworth Air Force Base (just east of Rapid City) to take pictures of some planes, notably the B-1B bomber which is based there. Was hoping to see some in the air but no luck.  I’ve seen several do fly-bys at the Charlotte race.  It is one powerful aircraft.

I then headed back down to go through the east side of Custer State Park which I didn’t see yesterday (and in doing so passed through said tunnel), and back down through Wind Cave on trusty unpaved Roads 5 & 6.

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!

 

Belle Fourche, South Dakota

Pronounced “Bell Foosh”.  Why, I don’t know….

This marker denotes the Geographic Center of the United States (all 50 states).  It is in a city park downtown whereas the actual location of the GPS coordinates is about 20 miles north of town.  Belle Fourche is about an hour northwest of Rapid City.

This designation occurred in 1959 after Alaska and Hawaii were added as states.  Before that the site was in, you guessed it, Lebanon KS.  I thought I was going to have another brain teaser on my hands when the sign in the park stated that the Center moved here from Smith Center, Kansas.  Well I looked that up and it is just down the road from Lebanon, and is the county seat, so that may be why it got the mention on that particular sign.

I hear that Puerto Rico is starting to make noise about becoming the 51st state.  Who knows where that event would move the Geographic Center (or the Population Center). Actually, I bet someone, somewhere knows.  Sam???  Jimmy???  Anyone care to wager an educated guess?  I’m looking for something a little more precise than “east and south”.

The Geographic Center of North America is near Rugby, North Dakota.  I would have thought the Canadian influence would have pushed it further north than that but Alaska goes pretty far north so evidently that had already been factored in.  I guess it’s good I’m not the one figuring all that out.

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On my way back to my Airbnb from Belle Fourche I stopped in Sturgis, which is Mecca for motorcycle enthusiasts.  Didn’t see too many bikers, but then it was over 100 degrees today so all that leather would be quite warm.  I saw lots of gigantic nightclubs and bars which probably host some pretty wild parties.  One of the bigger clubs had a hundred or more American Flags in a field in front of the complex as a tribute to veterans.  Impressive!  The town population increases dramatically (in multiples, probably) when a bike rally comes to town.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

This was my second visit to the Badlands.  I was here many years ago but it was nice to come back and spend more time enjoying it.  It was a hot day (100 degrees before noon, and a high in the Park of 108) so it was not too crowded.  Plenty of room in the scenic overlooks and parking areas and didn’t even have a wait in the restaurant at noon on a Sunday.

As with Carlsbad Caverns, the pictures don’t do it justice.  Everyone should visit to see it for themselves.  Only saw two bison roaming around (free range) but saw lots and lots of prairie dogs.  Unfortunately there has been a big outbreak of the sylvatic plague in the prairie dog community (which is lethal) so there are now warning signs to keep a safe distance (not hard to do since they are pretty skittish, though I do have a picture of one on my foot taken at Devil’s Tower many years ago.  Those little guys had gotten very accustomed to having people around).

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Before getting to the Badlands I made the obligatory stop at Wall Drug.  For those who haven’t been there – it is the “South of the Border” of the northwest US.  Signs along the interstate for miles and miles (though smaller and not as witty as Pedro’s) woo the folks driving down the road to stop at Wall Drug. It is a family owned, full city block in size, drug store/tourist trap in Wall, SD.  As was the case years ago, it was packed.  I stopped, took a picture and was on my way.  Didn’t spend a dime.