Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Hot Springs, SD

Mammoth Site
This place is an archeological wonder. So far, they have found over 100 mammoth skeletons from both the Wooly Mammoth and Columbian Mammoth. Apparently, it used to be a sinkhole that filled up with water and, being in Hot Springs, the water was a year-round 92 degrees. So grass grew on its banks year-round and the water never froze. Lots of animals were drawn to this site for water and food. But the poor, ungainly mammoths couldn’t climb out of the sinkhole if they slipped in while trying to drink or eat. Ironically, all of the skeletons so far are males – still trying to decide if that’s due to more courage at the sinkhole or less intelligence. Girls, ya wanna vote?

Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary
This non-profit sanctuary is an 11,000-acre ranch for unadoptable wild horses. They currently have over 400 horses. It started when the owner, David O. Hyde, saw starving wild horses at an unethical feed lot and decided they deserved better. The sanctuary survives off of private donations, receipts from guided tours, and the sale of foals. Many of the foals we saw were already sold, but just waiting to be weaned and transferred. Not only do these sales provide necessary income, but it also provides space for the sanctuary to keep taking in new horses. We went on a guided tour with Bob in a little Blue Bus. Bob drove us around the sanctuary for views of the grounds and discussed the background of the sanctuary and local botany. But when he found a herd, he took us on the “country roads” – which meant straight out into the pasture, no road, no trail – we had to hang on to our bus seats to keep from bouncing out into the aisle. Bob was a little crazy. He literally drove us into the middle of the herd for our close-up photo ops. There were even a couple of horses who he knew would let us touch them. Most would walk or run away if you entered into their personal space. But, wow, it was great standing in the middle of all of these beautiful creatures. Even with burrs stuck in their manes, or cactus branches stuck to their sides, and the stallions even had bite marks from fights. They’re wild.
The stallion on the right was one of my favorites!
Several groups of horses were curious, and would just walk up and watch us.

The property has been in several movies. One was “Crazy Horse”. The set Hollywood built to look like Ft Robinson is still on the grounds. The other movie was “Hidalgo”. Apparently the first 8 minutes of the movie are on sanctuary grounds. Mr. Hyde is only the second owner for this land. The first owners were true homesteaders. We were shown the cave they lived in for the first 7 months they homesteaded. And in that same rocky outcropping are petroglyphs carbon-dated 2,000 years old. And presently, Lakota Indians hold their Sundance ceremonies there on the property.

Wind Cave Nat’l Park
Wind Cave is popular for its above ground attractions as well as those below ground. On the surface there are rolling hills dotted with bison, deer and prairie dogs. The bison are growing their thick winter coats (whereas in the spring it is dripping off) and even their horns appear to be thicker and larger. But they were everywhere. WCNP is another great place to get up close and personal with these large beasts. Inside the cave, the most common formation is called Boxwork, which is extremely rare in all other caves. It’s called Boxwork because it looks like little empty cardboard boxes hanging from the ceiling. Unfortunately, when we first pulled into the park I didn’t realize that my memory card on the camera was full. So I have no pictures of the long bison parade that walked past us, within 25 feet of where we were standing, and no pictures of the Boxwork. Oh well, we all make mistakes, right? After the cave tour, we went back to the RV so I could upload my pictures and re-charge my batteries, and then we went back to WCNP (only 5 miles away from RV Park) for a sunset drive through the park.
Here a herd of buffalo are using the parking lot instead of one of the natural mineral licks.


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