Sunday, May 24, 2009

Day 7 recap - Needles Mountains and the Mammoth Site

After about 12 hours in the car on Monday, Tuesday was a day intended for easy sight seeing and relaxation at the KOA. But it was the strangest thing! Everyone, except Hannah, was WIDE awake at 6 am. A leisurely camp-stove breakfast of pancakes, sausage links and nectarines,
some play time on the near-by playground and we were ready to go by around 9:30.
The plan was to get to the Mammoth site and possibly see Mt. Rushmore or the Crazy Horse memorial on our way back, but we were playing it by ear. We had figured that the Mammoth site would be about a 20-30 minute drive...

... that was until we thought we'd try to see something else "on-the-way." We had read about the Needles Mountain range, a unique area of large, jutted, and oddly shaped peaks that had originally been considered as the site for the President's Memorial.
It was decided that the Needles would too frail to stand up to the rigors of the proposed monument carving. I am glad that we took this detour. The scenic highway took us up along the edges of these odd shapes and even through them, as there were small tunnels, just barely big enough for the suburban to squeeze through, that had been blasted out of the rocks.

The Needles Highway brought us through Custer State Park. There, we were able to add to our wildlife list the likes of deer, vultures, wild turkey, prairie dogs, buffalo and even cute, little BABY BUFFALO! Apparently there are also wild burros that wander free in the park and are known for coming to car windows and begging for food, but alas, we did not see them.

The kids enjoyed the wildlife, but got quite antsy when it took us almost 2 hours to get off the Needles Highway. The temperature outside of the air conditioned car was getting to be about 98 degrees, and it wasn't quite noon yet. We were glad that we had brought the cooler in the car and were able to give the kids something to eat while we drove through the poorly signed town of Hot Springs, SD in search of the Mammoth site.

We did find it, and it was worth the wait!
The kids all got to help out the guide during the tour. Here, Noah and Hannah are caring a mammoth jaw bone. The things that look like shoe prints are the mammoth molars.

The backstory of the Mammoth Site: In the 70s a realestate developer was clearing a plot of land for a new development of homes when a dozer driver realized that he had come across something interesting. The blade of his digger had sliced a large Mammoth tusk. The clearing was halted and the developer sold the land for his purchase price. An organization was formed to begin processing the site and a large building was placed over the area. They believe that due to a collapse of layers of sediment, and an upflow of a natural mineral spring, a large sink hole developed and filled with water. So far almost 60 mammoth remains have been found in the site, all of which appear to be male! There are also other unique and unusual prehistoric or extinict speices of animal remains that have been found in the sinkhole. The site is actively being dug, and will continue to be excavated for at least the next twenty years.

While we were there, the Elder Hostile that supervising the digging, had volunteers currently working thru the dust and layers of dirt in hopes of finding something new and cool. We spoke to one excavator who was an intern at the Site, a paleontology major at the School of the Mines. He spends one day a week digging and one day a week working in the lab, analyzing the findings. He was currently uncovering a set of mammoth ribs.

This is the remains that they have named "Napoleon Bone-a-part" because through the compressing of sediment ontop of the remains, the bones were fused together. A complete specimen.

If we have opportunity to visit again, there are times during the year when children are able to get involved in digging. I believe that it happens in June and you need to be preregistered.
Noah is holding a full-sized replica of a mammoth femur (leg bone).

It was a great experience for all of us and I'd love to see it again in a few years as the digging progresses.

Although the children were napping for most of the ride back to the KOA, the shorter route this time... actually was only 30 minutes or so, Liz and I were just amazed at the deep red soil that would sneak out of the green prairies and mountainsides. I can't seem to express in words the wonder of the variety of landscapes witnessed in our small glimpse of our countrysides. Needless to say, each day we were amazed.

We drove right past the Crazy Horse Memorial site and decided to just drive up and see what we could see. We only got to the gate. The cost per car was $27, presumably because the memorial is still being created. We did not really want to get the kids up and out, but the view even from the base of the mountain was quite stunning. This would be place that I would like to return to, had we allowed for a bit more time.

It was a stinky, hot day, still hanging out around 98 degrees at 4 PM when we returned to our Kabin. Someone had decided to open the pool a few days early - what a blessing?! We all needed to cool off and it was the perfect outlet for the kids.

Dinner was pigs-in--a-blanket cooked by campfire, quickly followed by the necessary smores and dough-boys. The kids enjoyed toasting marshmallows so much, we ended up with more toasted than any of us could eat! And yes, that night, we all slept quite well.


  1. I love all the pink cheeks in the pictures.

    I have a nephew who would LOVE that mammoth site.

    And the SIGN for the mammoth site cracks me up. There's puncuation! :)

  2. What an adventure (whick you know I love)!

  3. I KNOW my kids, especially S, want to go dig in that site! They have a kids archaeology book so she's mentioned before wanting to go to a real dig site. Thank you for finding one for me! :)


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