Thursday, July 29, 2010

Black Hills, SD

After leaving the Badlands where the temperature reached 100 degrees and there was very little shade, we made our way west to the Black Hills. The Ponderosa Pine covered hills were a sight for sore eyes! We first headed to Hot Springs, SD which is a vibrant town filled with beautiful sandstone buildings and an active downtown built along a creek that is fed by several thermal mineral springs. The mineral springs are a constant 87 degrees, much cooler than the water in Hot Springs, NC, but perfectly refreshing during a South Dakotan heat wave!

George and Adalaya did some investigating around town and found "Evans Plunge", a thermal spring-fed water park. This place was so great! The entire pool bottom was covered with river pebbles and they had water slides, inter-tubes, floating alligators to climb, water volleyball, and monkey rings. We thoroughly enjoyed some good clean family fun!

George, George, George of the jungle.
Strong as he can be.
Watch out for that tree!

While in Hot Springs we also visited The Mammoth Site (just like the sign in the above picture recommended). An ancient sink hole, it was filled with warm water and lured mammoths and other creatures to its banks for a drink and green grass. However this oasis was a death-trap, for it's banks were composed of a very slippery clay and many mammoths fell in, were buried in sediment, and perfectly preserved. The Mammoth Site is an active paleontological dig site where they leave the skeletons in situ. Interestingly, all of the mammoths that they have found in this sink-hole (87 of them so far) have been male, and most of them teenagers. Evidently the mammoth matriarchs knew about this dangerous place and warned their herd to stay away from the area. Meanwhile the lone males had no one to warn them and thus were lured to their deaths.

Also nearby is Wind Cave National Park. We took a tour of this amazing cave - the most complex and the 4th largest in the world. A unique feature of this cave is a formation called "boxwork" which looks like a honeycomb of calcite crystals which were left after the limestone washed away from inside the lattice work. Evidently this cave houses 95% of all the known "boxwork" in the world. Here's an example of it.

We continued our journey into the heart of the Black Hills. We took the Wildlife Loop Road in Custer State Park and saw herds of bison, pronghorn antelope, burros, and more prairie dogs.

The hills turned to mountains with lots of exposed & upturned granite which made for beautiful views. The road we traveled was neat with many loops, twists and tunnels. As we exited one tunnel we saw Mount Rushmore in the distance carved into one of the many granite outcrops. It was a good way to approach the monument. We stopped in the National Forest to check out the view from afar. Here is the carving in the distance behind Adalaya.

Here's another photo from the base of the monument with all the states' flags lining the entry.

There is a lot more to see out here in the Black Hills, but it's time for us to move on. This is definitely a place I'd like to come back to!

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