Friday, June 19, 2009

Day 14 Windcave National Park, Hot Springs, Mammoth Site, Custer State Park, Needles Highway, Iron Mountain Road, Mount Rushmore, South Dakota June 16

Captain’s Blog
June 16, 2009
Windcave National Park, Hot Springs, Mammoth Site, Custer State Park, Needles Highway, Road, Mount Rushmore, Iron Mountain, Black Hills, South Dakota
Day 14

OK, I know by looking at the listing of activities you’re think we’re nuts. I did say that Ron and I are trying to slow down but I guess not today. We’re up at 6 AM, get going early and tend to stay out late as a general rule.

First stop of the day was Hot Springs the site of a huge excavation called Mammoth Site. The town of Hot Springs is absolutely beautiful with gorgeous buildings and scenery to match. The town has an indoor pool fed by the hot springs and the water is warm year round. We walked the small town and enjoyed the weather and views in every direction.

The Mammoth Site is enclosed in an enormous building to protect the fossils within the dig site. The mammoth site was found by accident when a contractor/land owner was clearing the land for a housing development. The bulldozers unearthed huge bones that the developer saw as something valuable. Being interested in fossils he called a friend paleontologist and had him come to the site to evaluate what was there. He gave his friend three years to determine if the findings were worth anything. Well the rest is history and the indoor excavation site features fossils of 55 Columbia and wooly mammoths.

It is
believed that 26,000 years ago Columbia and woolly mammoths, camels, lions, wolves and giant bears roamed the area and became trapped in the sink- hole filled with water and died.

The 36,000 square foot visitor center is recognized world wide for its interpretation and exhibits. The site has co-hosted international symposiums and conferences and publishes scientific research material.

It was amazing to see the size of the bones unearthed and to even imagine an animal of that size roaming the earth. We enjoyed the tour and got some great pictures. One of interest is the femur placed atop a young boy’s head to demonstrate the length of the Columbia mammoth leg.

What a find and to think this could have been lost if not for the contractor with an interest in fossils.

We stopped back at the campground and grabbed a light lunch and took Jewel for a walk then it was off to Custer State Park for a ride through wildlife highway. Again we were amazed at the herds of buffalo, much larger then those seen at Windcave and the many other species of animals everywhere. We ran into a herd of wild burrows

who were quite friendly. As soon as we stopped they would come to the window of the Jeep to greet us. All the animal out here sure do like to roam in the roads.

The ride through Custer was spectacular. The scenery is different then anything we have seen before and the views go on for miles and miles. If we had to guess one could probably see 100 miles away.

The roads through the park are very winding with switch-backs about every100 yards slowing the speed limit to 15 mph in most places. This added to the travel time making a 15 mile trip an hour or better to complete. The scenery, changing landscape and the many different species of animals we saw made the slow moving worthwhile.

Needles highway runs through the park and is also winding with many switchbacks and very narrow tunnels looking like the eye of a needle. The smallest and tightest being last that we passed through.

The topography along needles is ever changing and completely different from the beginning of our ride through Custer State Park. Instead of rolling hills and meadows the landscape changes to high ridges with huge jutting rocks into the sky- line looking like stacks of needles across the horizon. Words cannot really describe how beautiful it is. I’m not sure pictures will capture it either.

The tunnels were extremely narrow making us glad that we did not take highway 16 A as recommended by one ranger. We would not have been able to get through and there was no place to turn around. That would have been a bad scene for us.

Many brave RV’ers in smaller and sometimes bigger campers were going through the tunnels. One unlucky man misjudged the entrance and got his trailer stuck scraping against the side of the tunnel. I’m not sure what he was thinking because if he had stayed in the middle instead of hugging the right he would have made it through.

The traffic was backed up on both sides of the tunnel (only one car can pass through at a time) and everyone was out taking pictures of the guy stuck in the tunnel. Ron (my hero) went to help direct the guy out of the tunnel without further damaging his trailer and when he was finally out of the tunnel everyone cheered. He was embarrassed to say the least and would not look at anyone as he drove past. The guy pulling another trailer behind him got through the tunnel OK and was laughing like crazy. Everyone else got through the tunnel with out a problem and we were on our way again.

The final tunnel was the needle a very narrow entrance. We felt like we had no room to get through and the guy who got his trailer stuck had to get through the eye first????? What a great ride.

The next stop was the Mouth Rushmore Monument. It was awe-inspiring to look up and see the faces of our Presidents on Mount Rushmore as we walked through the Hall of Flags. How impressive and spectacular!!!!!!

We walked the presidential walk – the walkway that takes you under the heads of each president and gives you a different view. It is amazing to see such a huge sculpture of these great men preserved for eternity.

We watched the film, toured the museum and walked up and down hundreds of steps to get from point A to point B. Nightly at 9 PM there is a lighting ceremony and presentation by the park rangers. We did not bring warm coats so opted to not stay for the show. By 7 PM the temp had dropped 20 degrees and it was a very cold 53 degrees with the wind blowing. Our plan is to return for the ceremony tomorrow night with the appropriate winter clothing.

I thought we would be heading down the highway to get back to the campground but I was mistaken. Ron decided to take the Iron Mountain Road instead. This road is much like needles highway and is very long riddled with narrow tunnels. was beautiful and the tunnels narrow.

Along the road and in the forest there were hundreds of piles of debris set up like tents. The park service has been clearing the debris from the forest floor to help control forest fires. It looked like many, many, many man hours were used to clear the forest floor. We don’t even want to rake the leaves at home – can’t imagine clearing a forest.The ride to the campground took us back through Custer State Park. The evening brought out more and more wildlife. We saw herds of Elk and again Buffalo in the roads everywhere. One was nursing her baby in the middle of the road.
We got back to the RV close to 10 PM and were wiped out. It was off to bed after an exhausting day. We don’t set out with a plan to put in a 12 or 14 - hour day it just happens. A great close to a great day.

No comments:

Post a Comment