09/17/2001: Monday 9/17/01
Once we checked out of the Bavarian Inn north of Custer, SD, we headed south to Hot Springs to see the Mammoth site. This had been a sinkhole in the barely prehistoric past, and foolish anti-social males had occasionally gotten stuck. They've found fifty-two individuals so far, from both mammoth species, all male. The other findings are more significant.
They found a nearly complete flat-faced cave bear. This was the 12th specimen found in the world. This predator was so clever that he rarely got stuck in sink holes or tar pits. This was the first time they found a leg bone for this particular ursine. Along the wall of the dig they have life size cut-outs of all the critters they'd found in this pit. The bear one, our guide pointed out, was wrong. You see, the archaeologists made the typical assumption that these big bears had similar proportions to the smaller, modern grizzly bears. No such luck. The legs were much longer. Standing on its hind legs, Flat Face would stare into 2nd story windows. His estimated running speed (based on body mechanics and energy calculations) is about 48 mph! He'd eat a couple of grizzlies a day, if these meager modern bears had existed back then. He could have run down a cheetah. And the evidence shows that he was smarter than your average bear.
The guide suggested cloning this beast and releasing his ersatz kin in Afghanistan. Weak joke so soon on the heels of the WTC event. Also, this sinkhole was a hot spring, and (the guide admitted) the DNA would have racimized (decomposed) to nothing before the beasts were fossilized.
Our guide is an archaeologist studying to become a teacher. He also noticed my Kim Fritts t-shirt, and we started chatting pagan, SCA, SF etc. He's planning to open a store in Hot Springs, SD called Something Different (? I think) and sell to the off-beat set. He wanted my card, and might sell some of my jewelry. You never know.
After the mammoths, we visited the Wind Cave National Park visitors center. We've got good caves back home, and were tired, so we didn't take the tour.
After Wind Cave, we took the last remaining road through the Black Hills, 385, 87, and the wildlife loop which doesn't show on most maps. Some gravel roads, but mostly smooth, albeit winding sailing.
We hiked one nature trail up a mountain and up the fire watch tower at the top. I still feel the altitude when I climb. Karen assured me that she wasn't afraid of heights at the bottom of the hill. Halfway up the watch tower, she told me that, maybe, she was. She recovered, and we got up to the locked hatch at the top of the stairs. The guide book said the tower was open. Oh, well. The view was pretty good from 5 feet lower down. On the walk down the hill, we stole a couple of chunks of quartz-veined red granite from rubble piles for our garden.
On our drive toward the wildlife loop, we finally saw buffalo. Hundreds. All around us. Why does the buffalo cross the road? Each one had to cross, ask, and return to tell the others. They, unbelieving, milled back and forth trying to figure it out. Except for the calves; they were content to roll in the dirt or suckle wherever mom might roam.
Once out of the park (at the East side) we drove fast roads up to buy a hat in Rapid City, at a place recommended by the Hawaiian waitress at the Bavarian Inn, which is just south of the Crazy Horse memorial in Custer City. She said that's where the local ranchers shop. It seemed right. By 8:30, we arrived at the Spearfish Kelly's Inn and called it a night.
We did not visit the dinosaur dig with its famous T-Rexes at Hill City. We skipped the legendary, live white buffalo in Custer, we stayed out of Hickock's Deadwood, and we didn't camp last night in the park (which I'd regretted until it dawned rainy).