Day Two: Bison and Mammoths and Caves, Oh My!

As promised! (I hope none of you are on dial up….”picture heavy” is an understatement…)

Day two began at 3:30 am. Yep. You read that right. At 3:30, the wind woke us up. Not a wind whispering through the trees…I mean a howling, might rip the tent out of the ground wind. Ugh. Then the boys were awake needing to go to the bathroom. And then *I* needed to go too. Remember how far the bathrooms were?? Couple that with the knowledge that mountain lions are abundant in the park, and my heart was pounding so hard I couldn’t go back to sleep. Not good considering the day we had ahead of us…

First stop…the Mammoth Site. Our drive down to Hot Springs took us through Custer State Park. And as luck would have it, a herd of bison were crossing the road. Amazing creatures. Huge. Beautiful. A little scary. But all together amazing.

This one obviously didn’t want his picture taken. LOL!

On to the Mammoth Site! We got there just in time to take a tour before the boys’ program started. Here they are posing in front of a replica of a mammoth skeleton in the lobby…

The boys enjoyed the tour. We learned that out of the 50-some mammoths at the dig site, 100% of them were male. Interesting…hmmm…. At one point in the tour, the guide asked for volunteers to carry a replica of a mammoth jaw for everyone to see. Here are the fantastic volunteers at work…

Of course it was a replica, because if it was real, it would be entirely too heavy for these two guys to carry. Here lies one of the more complete skeletons. It is complete…minus a head. They had named it Marie Antoinette until they realized it was a male. They renamed him Murray.

Here is another view of the dig site with a few skulls…

After our tour, the boys got ready for their program. The site offers a “Jr. Paleontologist Dig” for kids between 4 and 12. The kids get to learn “correct” paleontological dig procedures and dig up “fossils.” First the kids get a little instruction from the guides. These girls were so great with the kids. I was very impressed. Tyler was very excited to answer all of the questions. He loves this stuff!

Here are all of the boys digging in the dirt…

Benji found a mammoth vertebra. He was impressed that the mammoth’s backbone was the same size as his leg! (the shadows were wicked in this place. I tried my best with camera flash and photoshop, but some of these pics were just not so great.)

Tyler found a prehistoric bear skull…(that little hard to see bone down in the left corner)

Logan found the lower jaw of a mammoth. You see those two ginormous teeth??

Avery’s was the hardest to find…a mammoth rib!

Awwww…aren’t they cute with their certificates??? Officially Jr. Paleontologists!

This picture was a must. The last time I stood by this mammoth jaw I was 7 months pregnant with Tyler. What a difference 9 years makes…

Funny picture time!!!! Tyler trying to be the upper jaw…

Benji (barely holding up a replica of a mammoth femur)

Avery (he just *had* to play air guitar…)

All three in the jaw…

This picture is totally for my father. The plaque to Wade’s left contains fossilized mammoth dung. The photo opportunity was too rich to pass up…

This photo op was even better…gotta love these guys…

Whew! Are you still with me?? So, we’ve seen the bison. We’ve seen the mammoths. What are the caves all about?? Since we were down in the Hot Springs area, we thought it would be fun to tour Wind Cave National Monument. (Seriously…who thought this would be fun? Was I consulted on this decision?)

We drove to the Wind Cave visitors center and got signed up for the next “Natural Entrance Tour.” This meant that we would be going into the “natural” entrance to the cave instead of riding down in an elevator. Sounds good right? Our first stop on the tour? The site of the ‘discovery’ of Wind Cave. I put that in quotes because Wind Cave was known and revered by the Native Americans in the area for many years before it was discovered by white settlers. The miners that owned the land had a very adventurous 16 year old boy who found this 12×10 inch hole. He climbed in and over time began mapping the caves. (Are you cringing yet?) This is our amazing ranger guide Layle standing next to the hole… (a link to a little history for you)

Fear not, brave readers…we did not have to climb down this hole. There is another ‘natural’ entrance. It involves a revolving door/airlock and many, many stairs. The rangers do keep it locked up so that no one can climb down there in the middle of the night and get lost. Once you are through the revolving door and locked in by the ranger, you proceed down a long stairway. Do you know how hard it is for a mommy to see this…

Why does he have to be so grown up?? I did manage to snap a few group shots on our decent… Here is almost the whole group: (from the top) Jon, Robin, Logan, Wade, Benji, and Avery…

the boys in the cave…

This is the narrowest part of the tour. It is actually the only part of the cave that they have modified. They widened it to be the same width of the walkway. Apparently ‘back in the old days’ someone got stuck because this part of the cave was so narrow. Also, if you look in the background…the man in front of the boys is ducking a little. There was a LOT of that on this tour. Many places where the ceiling was quite low…

I wish cave pictures could actually show you what we saw. This picture is of one of the side passageways off of our path. The opening is about the same height as me, and the passage just trailed off into darkness. So many of these little offshoots on this tour. The network of passageways and rooms is just amazing!

One little spot on the tour was not advertised and if it was, it probably would have been a deal breaker for me. The tour guide stopped us in one of the ‘larger’ rooms on the tour and told us a little story about the one of the earliest tour guides, Alvin, who had brought a tour down to that very spot. He noticed an offshoot that he had never explored before and told his tour to take a break, have a snack. He wanted to explore the passage and he would be right back. He followed the passage and it lead to a room that he *had* discovered before and he was so excited he had to go home and write it down immediately in his journal. Alvin did just that, and then went about his evening at home. The next morning, his mom asked him about his tour. You guessed it. They were left down in the cave. All they had were candles in lanterns and those had burned out fairly soon after Alvin left them. (Can you see where this is headed??) The tour guide then gave us a little taste of what those people experienced on that tour. She turned out the lights. (My hands are shaking as I type this…) Holy crap. I had the tightest grip on Wade and two children clinging to my legs. *shiver* Seriously one of the freakiest things I have ever experienced.

Ok…back to the happy pictures…hahahaha. Here are all of my guys down in one of the rooms…

Here is some of the boxwork that the cave is famous for. If you want to know more about this cave formation…click here!!!

Wade was kind enough to take this pic of me and the boys. I wonder why I look so crazed…. lol! (not really sure what Tyler and Benji were looking at…)

Whew… That pic was actually taken in the last room of the tour. I was never so glad to see the light of day.

And just to show that everything comes around full circle…We saw this guy scratching an itch on the way back to camp…

Whew. I don’t think tomorrow will have as many pictures. So if you made it this far, give yourself a gold star!! See you tomorrow for more cave exploration!! (Yeah, I went on another cave tour….)

4 thoughts on “Day Two: Bison and Mammoths and Caves, Oh My!

  1. Whew, I can’t believe you got up and did something else the next day, I am tired just reading about it! I find the fact that there were only male mammoths very interesting. Did they have any theories about this?

  2. Heather,
    OMG!!! These are amazing photos. What a great day!
    I need to stop for a breather myself. All the guys must be having a mammoth time including “Indiana Harrell”. As for the photo of “Indy” next to the dung. From the smile on his face he appears to be taking credit for the “deposit”, no s#!*.
    And, by the way…In their day mammoths, like later elephants, were part of a society governed mostly by matriarchal influences. While young, they are guarded and ruled by all the females in the group (some things never change). Anyway,as the males reach their puberty the females chase them off (nice, real nice). Then the males do what guys do, without directions, and seek the companionship of their brotherhood. Well, as you all know, we males go places we shouldn’t and hence, we are caught up in the mire of bachelorhood at the local watering hole (pre-Hooters).
    To your readers, I apologize for my hypothesis and the length of its content.
    Continue on with the saga as soon as possible.
    Love always,
    Dad

  3. great post, the cave stuff gave me the heebie jeebies seriously! no way would I have ever gone in. I hope you had a zoom lens on the camera, those bison can move faster than you think (yes, I speak from experience)

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