Originally, we'd planned to spend three days here in South Dakota, using Rapid City as our "home base." We decided today to cut it short. Our family is just plain tired of the road. There's a ton to see here, but today proved that we're pretty close to saturated with "scenery." Tomorrow will be our last full day here, then we will do the huge drive home.
This morning we let ourselves sleep in. With the time zone difference (we're in Mountain Time) that really only meant until about 7:30 or so. Then, after fueling up on the hotel breakfast, we headed down 79 for Hot Springs and the Mammoth Site
. 79 is not the most scenic, but Shawn snapped a picture. You can't tell from this picture, but it really looked like it was going to rain on us. A huge dark cloud loomed in the west.
However, when we got to the Mammoth Site, we had a great time. The site itself is interesting because it's a working paleontology dig. When we were there, in fact, we saw people excavating. At first, we thought it was going to be a bust because we had to buy a ticket for a tour that didn't start right away and they told us to "enjoy the gift shop." By the time the tour started, Mason was muttering about capitalism. But, we had an amazing tour guide. He could not have been more than 12? Maybe 13? He looked younger than Mason, but he did a phenomenal job. He was incredibly knowledgable.
Plus, we got to see mammoth bones!
I learned that there are actually mammoths other than woolly mammoths. Apparently, the majority of those found at this site are of a kind known as Columbian mammoths
. Also, we aren't supposed to call these fossils because they have not turned to stone. They're actually just dried bone.
There were also a ton of other animals that were discovered in this sinkhole, including another extinct mega-fauna, the short-faced bear
I have to admit that since Mason was very much focused on the Cambrian Period
, I never learned that much about the age of mammals. I didn't know that llama used to roam here, as well as some kind of now extinct camel, something called a camelop
. That's pretty cool stuff.
We left the museum pretty enthused for the rest of our day. I have to say, too, though we didn't get any pictures of it, Hot Springs seemed like a neat town. I sort of regret not exploring it a bit more. There was a Pioneer Museum that we could have checked out, and a very cute downtown made mostly out of red sandstone.
Instead we drove up 385 toward Wind Cave National Park
. We didn't have any intention of actually going into Wind Cave. What I wanted from the park was prairie dogs! I love prairie dogs. If I had a fursona
, I think it would be a prairie dog. I mean, look at them. They fat, sort of cute, a bit territorial, social, and enthusiastic.
I literally could have spent the rest of the day watching the prairie dogs popping around, zipping from hole to hole, and chirping at things that annoy them.
As we were cruising through the park at low-speed and my family was getting really tired of me happily chirping, "Oh! More prairie dogs! Let's stop!!" we spotted a group of pronghorns on the side of the road. Perhaps you already know this, but I was able to wow my family by telling the that the "antelope" of the song, "Home on the Range" with the line "where the deer and the antelope play" is actually referring to the pronghorn
I really did not expect to see pronghorns in the wild on this trip. Just as I did not expect bears. We also saw what we figure was a marmot
sitting on a fence post in Wyoming.
From this park, we'd hoped to cross over into Pringle and head up towards Custer, but... we were caught in a time loop and could not escape the buffalo. Seriously, we must have circled the interpretive center three times trying to find our way out. However, we did see this lovely buffalo a lot:
Thanks to the compass that is built into our car and a very helpful park ranger in the interpretative center we managed to escape the gravity well of Wind Cave.
Custer, of course, is a tourist trap of a town. We got out there, though, because we were all getting really kind of hangry
and I needed to pee. Shawn was really, really, REALLY done with crowds, though, so finding a place to eat that wasn't wall-to-wall tourists was hard. We managed to find a sit-down place that had decent food and we were all in a much better mood after chatting with our server, Joseph, who was from Tennessee originally and sort of found himself stuck in Custer, having been brought here as an army brat.
Besides getting food into our stomachs, the smartest thing we did was peel off 385 and head down Sheridan Lake Road toward Rapid City. Hardly anyone was on that road and it was GORGEOUS.
Having seen pronghorn, however, we started to really hope for elk. At one point, our entire family spontaneously attempted an elk call, which was sort of a terrifying bellowing groan in our estimation. :-)
As we were driving along here, we spotted a pullout and decided that what this burnt out family really needed was an hour in the woods just sitting and reading and exploring. There was a small pat that led us to a stream that had a ton of small fish and crawdads
I managed to drop my phone in the water. Ironically, I'd been very careful and taken it out of my pocket and set it in my shoes, but when I sat down to put my shoes back on... bam! It tumbled into the water.
However, I managed to turn it off right away and it's apart, drying right now. I have faith it will recover. Otherwise, Tracfones are cheap. This is why no one buys me a smartphone. :-)
Tomorrow, we're going to hop up early to see Mount Rushmore before the crowds and then do the wildlife circle in Custer State Park. Then, finally, we shall head for the home fires!