Sunday, October 8, 2017

Not Paris, but South Dakota

On the Road to South Dakota

Why South Dakota, you say? Well, it all started when Judy saw that Road Scholar was offering a week long  stay at the Woolly Mammoth Fossil dig in Hot Springs SD. She has always been interested in dinosaurs and fossils and even has a 5 pound pile of dinosaur dung to prove it. At least, it was labelled as dinosaur dung. Who knows.
So, while trying to figure out how to get to Hot Springs SD, I happened to look up the schedule for Jeep Jamborees to see if there were any on our way out or back. As luck would have  it, there was a Jamboree scheduled for the weekend prior to the fossil dig in Deadwood, SD. So, that was it. Nature's way of telling us to drive the Jeep out to South Dakota and beat the crap out of it for a few days, then go and get some education on woolly mammoths.
So, we got a jump on the 2000k mile drive by spending the night with our friend, Sandy, in E. Longmeadow, Ma. This would save us a few hours on the last day of driving. From there, we  headed to Erie, Pa, crossing the Mohawk River which was part of the Erie Canal. From there we passed through Ohio and Indiana where the main industry seemed to be the production of Winnebagos and trailers. The sky-line of Chicago was very impressive but not worth the traffic jam getting around the city. We got caught in the 5pm rush hour which became critical when my "low fuel" light came on. How accurate are those things anyway? Well, not to take any undue risks, I manoeuvred my way to an off ramp and paid 60 cents more per gallon for a few gallons to get us to our hotel in Elgin, IL.
Finally, we get to the Midwest, the heartland, where the landscape is really beautiful from horizon to horizon. We see huge dairy farms and cattle ranches, fields of corn and sunflowers and where one can buy porn and fireworks, just off the exit ramp. We saw some interesting billboards too. One for a Mexican restaurant, "Our food is so good, President Trump would build a wall around it." and "Wear Fur... Hunters and trappers help control wildlife." Interesting.

(The photos are mostly medium sized. You can click on the photo and get a larger version to get more detail. )
Wide open spaces

But not so wide open spaces in the rear of the Jeep. There was lots of space, but "Nature abhors a vacuum", so it was quickly filled.

Sunflower fields in South Dakota

Lewis and Clarke Interpretive Center along I-90 near Chamberlain, SD

You can't miss Wall Drug when driving through South Dakota

Sharing the road with the big rigs.


We finally rolled into Deadwood and found the Days of 76 grounds at the entrance to the town. Maybe the sight of 100 Jeeps gave us a clue that we were in the right place. We squeezed in between a couple of severely lifted Jeeps and then took a seat in the grandstands for our orientation. We were surprised by the demographics. Mostly older people, lots of couples, some children, lots of "camo" clothing, few "stock" Jeeps (like ours)...

Day One
We decided on the photo ops of the "Moderate" trail on the first day. Mainly because the forecast for the next day was 100% rain. This trail included stops in abandoned ghost towns with a few homes still standing. We had great views of Spearfish Canyon, if it wasn't cloudy, and lots of good climbs over rocky roads.

 We had our mandatory drivers meeting at 8:30 to get our orders for the day. All the jeeps were arranged in places depending on the trail they would take and we all set out in different directions.

 Most of the Jeeps had lift kits installed which necessitated having a step up to get into the front seat. This one was pretty clever.

We passed through the ghost town of Preston. There were only a couple of buildings left from the "town" of about 300 during the hay day of the gold rush in the Black Hills. This is one of the few that were standing.

Untouched since the 1880's.

Some of the prospectors just dug holes in the ground looking for gold or silver. This guy actually built his house on top of the hole he dug. Not sure if he ever found anything of value.

On a clear day, this would be a great view of Spearfish Canyon. Not too much to be seen on this day.

We passed by this abandoned school bus  that went off the road during a snow storm a number of years ago. What it was doing in the mountains, miles from a main road, is still being discussed. 
The skies cleared up in the afternoon for an enjoyable ride through the woods.

Day Two
Day two was predicted to be 100% rain, but it held off for much of the day. Here we are getting lined up to hit the trails. Notice the windshield on the first Jeep. An attractive young lady was the driver. 
Speaking of attractive young ladies, here's Judy having her lunch along the trail. 

The trails were a bit more difficult on the second day. Here we are lining up our route over these boulders in this creek bed. (The trail guides were terrific.)

I made it through OK and this is what it looked like for the Jeep following me. It is amazing what these vehicles will do. I don't think I even bottomed out on this obstacle.

There was one steep climb that the guides were not sure we should do because of the rain and the mud. They decided that they would take 5 at a time to go up the hill and then back down the hill. They said that the Jeeps needed to have front and rear wheel locks which not all of the older Jeeps had. However, my stock Rubicon had the wheel locks so I decided to give it a try. Judy opted to watch from the viewing area. I was the 4th of 7 out of 28 who attempted the climb. Of course, I wouldn't be documenting this if I didn't make it. I just put the Jeep in 4L and D2 and let it climb on its own. Amazing vehicles. Great way to end the day.

Wrap Up
The dinner at the end of the Jamboree is a lot of fun. After recognizing all the Trail Guides who had participated in the Deadwood Jamboree, celebrating its 25th year, a number of special awards were given out. The "Road Warrior" award goes to the Jeep that came the furthest for the event. We were in a dead heat with a guy who came from Florida. We drove 2000 miles and he said he drove 2200 miles. So, we sat down and figured we came in second. Then he admitted that he drove up from Florida to accompany his friend in his friend's Jeep. So we ended up with a Road Warrior plaque to stick on our Jeep somewhere.

Before heading to Hot Springs, we stopped at the Tatanka Visitor Center in Deadwood. This is an educational center that deals with all the uses of the buffalo that were employed by the tribes in the area. Originally, Kevin Costner wanted to build a hotel in the area. He engaged a sculptress to create sculptures of a buffalo hunt. The plans for the hotel fell through but he still had the sculptures. So, he started this center. The sculptures are outdoors on the property and depict a hunt where the buffalo are driven over a cliff by horsemen. The are life size and really amazing.

Mammoth Site.

In 1974, a business man in Hot Springs bought some land on which he wanted to construct some apartments. While leveling the land, he came across something odd . He had stumbled upon a sinkhole full of Mammoth bones. Luckily, after the discovery, he stopped digging and eventually sold the land to a group of Paleontologists who preserved the site and made it what it is today. See, Mammoth Site for more information.

Here is our Road Scholar group in the "bone bed" in front of a replica of a mammoth .

 During our week at the site, we would actively participate in digging in the "bone bed", working in the lab and molding and casting replicas of the mammoth bones.

Digging in the Bone Bed.

After a bit of training (how not to destroy anything beneath the surface) we were assigned areas to dig. Digging meant scraping away layer and layer of earth in this 26,000 year old pit. We weren't sure we would find anything of value, but we certainly didn't want to destroy anything of value.

This is what part of the bone bed looked liked. The remains of 66 mammoths have been identified and left in place to be studied in their natural state. These are real mammoth bones that have been exposed over time by the careful removal of sediment. We would continue that effort and remove more sediment while we were there.

This is Justin, Head Paleontologist and Bone Bed Curator, giving us a bit of instruction before we enter into the Bone Bed.

Here's the group taking its first entry down into the bone bed. Notice we each have a bucket of tools which consisted of a trowel, paint brush, whisk broom, dental picks and a spray water bottle. Pretty low-tech.

Here's Judy in the Bone Bed scraping away thousands of years of sediment searching for any kind of fossil and, possibly, the appearance of a huge mammoth bone.

Close up of Judy with some of her tools of the trade.

 Here's Tony working on exposing more layers in search of any type of fossil. Yes, those are the real Mammoth bones behind him, a huge tusk and part of a Mammoth hip.

The picture below shows more of the bones that have been uncovered.

Working in the "Lab".

Here's Tony removing more of the sediment from a Mammoth skull in the lab. It is encased in a plaster casing. You can see the tusk by the two vent hoses. This is half of a real skull. The remaining half is still in the bone bed waiting to be extricated.

Here is a bone that Judy worked on for a few hours. The idea is to carefully scrape the sediment away to expose the bone. You can see the partially exposed bone encased in the dirt. Behind it is a replica of what the bone really looks like. She had to be very careful to not damage the bone. They are very fragile and can disintegrate very easily.

Molding and Casting

Another activity at the site was to make replicas of the mammoths for other paleontologists to study. So we were assigned to "cast" all of the bones that make up the foot of a mammoth. These "feet" will be sent to universities or other centers.

These are the molds we made for parts of the feet. We embed the bone halfway into a base of clay. Then we used clay to build up a dam to  keep the molding material intact. The marbles will keep the material from shifting too much and also line things up when making the rest of the mold.

Once the mold is made, the "plastic" is poured into the mold. This will make the top side of the mold which is repeated for the bottom side.

This is Kelly helping Judy build the mold for the top part of a foot bone. We all have different bones to mold and cast.

Once we had all the bones molded and cast, we were tasked with trying to figure out how they all went together. We did fairly well without having a real model to go by. Finally, Kelly showed us a model of a foot and we were able to complete the task.

Custer Buffalo Round Up.

The last day was a special treat. We would attend the Custer Buffalo Round Up at Custer State Park, along with thousands of others. This is an event that takes place twice a year where buffalo are rounded up by horseback riders (and pickups) to be inoculated, branded (one time) and some, possibly, sold for their meat or to start other buffalo herds on other ranches. The majority are released back into the wild. This is to control the size and health of the herd.

We left the hotel before sunrise to join the many people already in the park.

The round-up was planned to begin around 9:30. We could see buffalo scattered in the hills in the distance

but the cowboys were waiting for the activities to begin.

Once they started the round-up, the buffalo came through a gap in the hills with a cloud of dust and a thundering noise. Here's a short video as they come into view.

More photos.

The buffalo were herded into corrals and then into chutes for any treatments they would receive before being released back into the wild. 
This contraption  is the chute that the buffalo pass through. They can see the sky through the glass doors on the left so they feel comfortable entering. Then they can be branded or inoculated through the trap doors on the top and bottom of the sides.

We wrapped up the week with a visit to Mt Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monument
And, on the way home, we took the Scenic Loop through Badlands National Park. One of Judy's favorite places.

This was a perfect way to end a perfect vacation. The Jeepin' in Deadwood was terrific and digging and preserving Mammoth fossil bones was an extraordinary experience that we won't forget. Add in the side trips to Custer State Park, Mt Rushmore, Crazy Horse and the Badlands and this made for quite a memorable few weeks.