During the last week of July, 2009, my family and I drove to Rapid City, South Dakota so I could attend a college visit that was being held at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technologies.The drive was a little over fourteen hours going one way but over that time I could see how greatly the landscape changed and shifted.This change went from the green seas of corn and soybeans of Illinois and Iowa, to the rolling hills of eastern South Dakota, then to the canyon and spire filled grassland of the Badlands, and finally the thickly forested Black Hills.As we neared Rapid City we took a route through the Badlands which led through some of the spires and canyons that cover the area.After reaching our hotel, the American Inn, we went to the lighting ceremony at Mount Rushmore.Two of the world’s longest caves, JewelCave and WindCave, are also within driving distance of Rapid City.We took tours of both caves, WindCave being on the second day while we took a tour of JewelCave on the third day.We saw how each cave can be its own self contained world that is so alien to our own.While Jewel cave is the longer of the two, as of now, WindCave has 95% of all the worlds’ boxswork formations and is deeply rooted in the creation myths of the Native Americans that inhabited the Black Hills and Great Plains.After touring WindCave we went to the nightfall laser show at Crazy Horse.
The area surrounding Rapid City, especially the Black Hills and Badlands, are among the most geologically diverse places in the world.The rock faces and spires that jut from the hills are a kaleidoscope of colors.One scenic road, which we took on our way back from JewelCave on the third day, truly showed this.The road took us through a thickly forested area of the Black Hills.It went high up and wound through the hills and eventually took us along towering rock spires and astonishing cliff faces.
On the second and third days we passed through CusterNational Park.Within both Custer and Badlands national parks a great deal of wildlife flourishes.Prairie dog hills covered the grasslands all the way to the horizon. Also herds of deer, antelope, and buffalo grazed right next to the road at times.
Proof of past animals permeates the entire region.A perfect example of this was the Mammoth Site at Hot Springs.We went there on our fourth and last day before we returned home.The Site is an active dig which can be watched but that day there were no people working on excavation.The Site is one of the most abundant mammoth fossil sites in the world.The place where the site is once was a hot spring which had trapped both Columbian and Woolly mammoths and as well as many other animals.Over time the skeletons were covered over and preserved.Currently 52 mammoth skeletons have been found but many are incomplete.
The next day we packed our suitcases back into the van and began to head home.On the way we took a different route through the grassland region of the Badlands.Within this region there was a great deal of Prairie dogs and Buffaloes.Along the way we took occasional pictures and then continued on home.If this trip showed me anything, it is that there is far more out there than the fields of corn and small communities in my area.
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