June 9, 2010, Wednesday, South Dakota

     This morning we headed for South Dakota and our first stop was The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, SD, America’s greatest ice age treasure.  The indoor excavation site features fossils of 58 Columbian and woolly mammoths.  The Ice Age exhibit hall displays a full-sized mammoth replica, a walk-in mammoth bone shelter, and the remains of now-extinct carnivores, the giant short-faced bear, and the American lion.  Twenty-six thousand years ago, Columbian and woolly mammoths, looking to escape the bitter cold of the Ice Age, were attracted to a warm pond located on the western edge of present-day Hot Springs, SD.  Every now and then over a period of thousands of years, mammoths slid into the natural, steep-sided sinkhole and became trapped.  After dying of starvation or exhaustion while trying to climb the slippery sides of the hole, their bodies settled to the pool’s murky bottom and eventurally became entombed in silt.  In 1974, several millennia later, a bulldozer operator was preparing the site for a new housing project when he noticed a white tusk in the dirt beneath his blade.  You can walk the edges of the sinkhole where the animals became trapped 26,000 years ago, leaving an ancient treasure of fossil remains.

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IMG_7520  Mammouth Site, Hot Springs, SD

     From there we headed towards Custer driving through Custer State Park.  We got to see a lot of buffalo.

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     In Custer, we just looked at the Crazy Horse Memorial from the outside.  The giant mountain sculpture was begun by Korczak Ziolkowski, at the request of Lakota chiefs, and represents North American Indians of all tribes.  Upon completion, the in-the-round figure of Crazy Horse astride his horse will be 563 feet high and 641 feet long, the largest statue in the world.  The nine-story-high face of Crazy Horse is complete.

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     Then it was time to visit Mount Rushmore, the main reason for our trip.  The $10 parking fee is good for one year for the same car.  The colossal sculpted heads of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln were created under the direction of Gutzon Borglum.  The memorial is one of the largest pieces of sculpture ever created.  Borglum intended to sculpt the presidents down to the waist, but died before completing the sculpture.  No other figures will be added to the memorial.

     Each face is 60 feet high and carved with an intricate perfection of detail and expression.  The Sculptor’s Studio houses tools and models from the memorial’s construction.  We had to walk down many steps to reach it.

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     When we reached the top, we went into the gift shop and what a treat was waiting for us.  We got to meet Nick Clifford, the youngest person to work on the memorial.  We bought his book which answers many questions about how it was carved.  The piece of granite you see is called a honeycomb and they pre-drilled them before they used hand tools to chip it away.  We went into Keystone to check in at the Holiday Inn Express and to have dinner at the Ruby House and walk around the town before returning for the evening lighting program.

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     The evening program began with a Ranger giving a 10 minute talk on why these presidents were chosen.  Washington represents the founding principles of the new Union; Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence and the Louisiana Purchase; Lincoln, the preservation of the country during the Civil War; and T. Roosevelt, the expansion of the country through the implementation of the Panama Canal and the conservation of the United States’ natural resources.  We then saw a 20 minute video about Mount Rushmore.  It concluded with Veterans invited to go onstage for the lowering of the flag and the singing of the “Star-Spangled Banner”.  Only the younger vets went down to the stage.

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