CAVES AND MAMMOTHS

We have been very busy lately visiting the black hills area. Below are a few places we went so far. I have not gone in-depth or put in a lot of pictures, otherwise if I did the blog would be miles long. Suffice to say these places were awesome.

JEWEL CAVE NATIONAL MONUMENT.

Jewel cave is much smaller above ground, than Wind cave at only 1000 acres or so, but has the third longest cave system mapped in the world ,at over 200 and some miles, which are spread over a vast area. It also is much more colorful as it’s name say’s, lots of brightness, and jewel like features.  The cave was Discovered by two prospectors in 1900. The cave entrance was too small so they blasted it open, upon entry found the beautiful formations of calcite crystals we see today. There venture was not to successful in bringing the public to take a tour. Upon hearing this President Theodore Roosevelt, decided to put this under the government control, by making this the Jewel Cave National Monument in 1907. In the 30’s the CCC, made many improvements to the area and the cave. It was turned over to the park service, and has operated that way ever since. In 1959 only about two miles of the current 200 plus miles were mapped. Tours were short then. In 1965 the park service decided to improve the caves again, now that many more miles of caves were discovered. They sank an elevator shaft 300 feet into the ground to an open area of the cave, put extensive walkways, and stairs in to allow for the current cave tours we have today. We took the Scenic tour, down the 300 feet in 44 seconds, up and down 736 stairs, and walkways to view the really cool formations in the cave. This cave has large rooms in it, and wider walkways than Wind cave did.

These are called draperies, as they look like drapes.

Most all the cave is covered in a thick layer of calcite crystles, which took millions of years to form. when they break off they expose the granite rock

WIND CAVE NATIONAL PARK.

Sits just below Custer State park in the lower Black Hills. It is pretty big in land area at just under 34,000 acres. The area above ground is known for it’s bison, long horned sheep, Elk, and the like, below it’s the caves that are the spotlight. Over 100 miles of caves have been mapped here, with only a few miles of that open for cave tours. Active caving is always being done to map more of the cave system. This was a great cave to visit, we took the natural Entrance cave tour. The original natural entrance is only about two feet round if that, for centuries the Lakota people viewed this opening as a sacred place where the spirit world emerged from the Earth’s surface, and called it “Maka Oniya” or wind cave. Today, you enter a building and go down in an elevator 208 feet to the caves. Also this cave system is stacked rather than outwards, so many layers of caves trails are over each other by just a few feet. In 1890 the McDonald family moved from Iowa to this place on a land grant. Soon young Alvin McDonald found the cave, crawled through the narrow opening with just a candle and a ball of twine to find his way back, and discovered the cave. More and more passageways were discovered, which he mapped, he also keep careful notes, and named large rooms. After a while he began to gave tours of the cave. In 1893 he and his father went back east to promote the cave, he caught typhoid fever and died, he was only 20 years old. For years after the cave saw little use, and a bitter court battle ensued with the McDonald’s and a business venture that said they owned the land. The government finally stepped in and in 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt, made this the seventh national park,  and the first cave to be a national park. The cave is notable for its calcite formations known as boxwork, as well as its frostwork. Approximately 95 percent of the world’s discovered boxwork formations are found in Wind Cave. Boxwork is formed when rock crushes each other, it forms fishers where minerals and calcite flow into and harden. While we were in this cave we were alerted about a very bad storm above ground with 60 mph winds, heavy rain and hail. When we got out about two hours later. There was pebble size hail all over in piles.I HATE hail.

Alvin McDonald, notice he built a small house over the cave entrance in the hill

Original cave entrance as it is today, Alvin brought visitor’s for a tour through that little hole.

HOT SPRINGS SOUTH DAKOTA, HOME OF THE MAMMOTH

Yes, there is a hot spring in Hot Springs S.D. , but today that is not what the draw there is about. I’ll tell you that in a minute. The hot springs began bringing in people in the mid 1800’s, a small town grew around, bring sick people in to help cure them in the warm springs. Most all of the Town’s buildings are made of sandstone blocks, which are very cool looking. After WWI, veteran’s came here, in an effort to help cure them from battle fatigue and injury. Veteran’s from all over came, so a large veteran hospital was built, thus becoming the first of what today is known as the Department of Veterans Affairs. They still come today. The town is pretty small, sitting in a small valley next to a creek where the springs feed into. Up the hill about a mile away is what todays draw to the town is.

In the summer of 1974, a lonely bulldozer sat atop a small sixty foot tall hill, maybe two hundred feet in size. The operator got on board, fired it up, and started excavating for a sub division, within five minutes, his dozer was shut off forever. WHY, he and his crew had noticed a large amount of LARGE bones, and ivory being dug up. After a few days, experts were there, and after careful study found the bones to be from the Wooly Mammoth. After a summer of digging and finding many more bones it was determined these were the bones of the much larger Mammoth itself. For the next several years, the dig site got larger and deeper, with amazing finds, and in 1980 the site was declared a National Natural Landmark. A nonprofit was started, along with outside tours given. In 1986 a huge building was built over the dig site, preserving it from the weather. As we toured the site, which is an active dig site in progress, we were just amazed, over 60 Mammoth are in this hill, probably many more. HOW, you ask did they get here, well 140,000 years ago this hill, was a sinkhole, filled with warm water at that time. The outer edge of which was surrounded by red spearfish shale, which is very slippery when wet, so as the Mammoths got close, they fell in unable to get out, so they died sank to the bottom, decayed, and over thousands of years, sediment covered them and the pond over. Also at this time, with wind, rain and erosion, the area around this sinkhole with the red spearfish clay, eroded, so what was a sinkhole, now in our time has become a small hill. The site is not even one half dug out yet , all bones are in place as is covered in a chemical to keep them from deterioration. They are also not petrified, as the pond water slowly dissolved the minerals in the bones, so they are very fragile. This was a really fascinating place to visit. Makes you really think about time, which we humans have so little time of.

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