Thursday, July 20, 2017

Mount Rushmore - Thursday, July 20

Today our family left camp and once again drove to Custer to take a phone call about Andrew's adoption. After we were finished, we drove to Wind Cave National park to meet up with the group.

We were the first to arrive, followed shortly there after by Brandon's family. We purchase tickets for the Natural Wind cave tour for the 24 of us. Emilia's 4th grade pass allowed our family free entrance to the tour.

Because of the size of our group, the first available time to accommodated us was 3 pm. We had several hours to spare, so we drove to Hot Springs, had lunch at a local park, and then traveled to the Mammoth Museum.

It is an enclosed active dig site,  with elevated walkways around the perimeter and through the center the public can use to observe paleontologists and volunteers working on the remains.

It is the largest concentration of mammoth remains in the world. They date back 26,000 years. A relatively short period in geological terms. Therefore the bones have not had sufficient time to fossilize and they are really brittle.

Experts believe the area used to be a water pool with grass growing around its perimeter. Those elements attracted young mammoth, who did not know to recognize the danger the slick soil around  the pool posed. Once they enter the water, they were unable to exit and died.

The site has been excavated down 22 ft. A drilled hole seems to indicate they have 45 more feet of digging before reaching the bottom of the historic pool. Thus far they have found remains for 61 mammoth, but the total could be much higher.

The most complete set of remains found has been dubbed Marie Antoinette because it has all of the body but is missing the head. Unfortunately, the bones soaked in a chemical solution that stripped them of any DNA identifying information, so it is impossible to know which, if any of the skulls excavated belongs to it.

After our guided tour through the mammoth dig site, we returned to Wind Caves National Park for our Natural Entrance Park tour.

The cave is 146 miles long, marking it the 6th longest cave in the world.  It is known for the boxwood formations. They look like the corrugated side of a cardboard box. They were mineral sediments which filterer through small cracks of rock. A carbolic solution eroded the rock leaving the mineral sediments.

We also observed frostwork and the commonly found popcorn. There is not much water that filters down to the cave 200 ft down so there are not many stalactites and stalagmites.

After the cave tour the kids completed their fourth Jr ranger program on this trip. They have quite the collection of badges and we drove back to camp.

We chose to drive through Custer Stake park and see if we would have better luck finding bison. We were in luck. One crossed the road directly in front of our car, while the second walked parallel to us on the road for about a minute before deciding to head further into the grassland.

 The Iron Man scenic drive was beautiful. It had several tunnels angled to capture glimpses of Mt Rushmore. The road spiraled on itself with picturesque wooden bridges  in between levels.

There also several ridges and lookout points to admire  the view.

Back at camp we hurriedly ate dinner and headed out to the Crazy Horse  Memorial for their evening light show.

We toured the grounds and museum, and the house of Ziółkowski, the sculptor who was commission to carve the memorial.

Chief Henry Standing Bear wrote to Ziółkowski asked for a memorial to commemorate their people, just like the white man has. 

Crazy Horse is a family affair. Ziółkowski's 10 children continue to carry out their parents vision today.

The light show was projected on the memorial. It was a lot more entertaining than Mt Rushmore.  My favorite was the ending when they played America the Beautiful and they depicted what the mountain will look like when competed.