July 31, 2014

7/31/14 - Jewel Cave NM

Only one more national park for us to visit in South Dakota:   Jewel Cave National Monument.  Don't expect rubies and sapphires; it's not that kind of cave.  The "jewels" are calcite crystals.

Summer's the time for fixing the highways everywhere, but they do it differently in South Dakota than they do it at home.  Rather than just patching the holes, or resurfacing the road, they scrape it all off down to dirt, then rebuild a brand-new road--both sides of the road at the same time.  If they're feeling friendly, they water it well, so it gets mud all over your vehicle.  It gets wash-boardy; it gets potholes; it gets downright nasty!  And we ran into it about 10 miles away from the park.  (sigh)
Then (double sigh) as soon as we turned off the highway, we see more construction where they're taking out the old asphalt in the parking lot and replacing it with concrete! Apparently oil was leaking down into the cave.  Now you know:  parking lots pollute.
George isn't as interested in caves as I am.  For one thing, most caves aren't designed for guys who are 6'6", so he's always bumping his head.  For another, some of the caves we've visited have been less than awe-inspiring.  But a cave with "Jewel" in its name? Shouldn't that be worth a peek?  We stood in line at the kiosk to get tickets (first-come, first-served) for the 1/2-mile Scenic Tour. If it's summer, expect to wait.  And be sure to take a jacket--it's 49 degrees in this cave!
Just before 1:00, our Tour Guide Eric, came out to escort us around the corner to the elevator.    When we got off the elevator, we had to go through an air-lock door into the cave.  Eric showed us how the barometric pressure inside the cave can cause the wind at the door to flow either in or out.  Weird.  (I couldn't remember how this worked; I had to ask George. Thanks, honey!
They call the Scenic Tour "moderately strenuous" because there are 723 stairs.  Most of them go down, so it's not as bad as it sounds.  I tried counting them, and I'd get a number.  Then the guide would stop us and talk about formations, and I'd forget where I was...or I'd forget to start counting again.  Short-term memory is really a pain!

Jewel Cave is the third longest cave in the world.  It's another one of those caves that's 3-dimensional, so don't just think a long, long passageway.  Many of the formations in this cave are calcite crystals, and this cave has more than the others.  There's a lot of the kind they call popcorn.  Some are bright and shiny (crystal clear sort of) but a lot is sort of dull brownish.  
The cave is mostly dry, and doesn't have water dripping through it to make stalactites and stalagmites in most places.  This stuff is called flowstone.  Looks like jellyfish.
There's popcorn here, and some flowstone.  Draperies in some pics, soda straws in another.  I enlarged the photos a bit so you can actually see them.
This formation is called "cave bacon", and is a type of drapery.  Instead of hanging down, it sticks out from the wall. The red is iron oxide so it really does look like a giant piece of bacon.
These skinny little stactites are called "soda straws".  
More formations.  This was actually a pretty cool cave, even without the stalactite/stalagmite drama of Carlsbad.
The guide told us that people are the worst pollutants in caves.  We drop hair, skin, dirt that's on our clothing and shoes.  In Jewel Cave, the gridded walkways have tarps suspended below them to catch the lint--each year they clean out 100 pounds of it.  Yuck!  
For more pictures, click here:  Jewel Cave Natl Monument 

July 30, 2014

7/30/14 - Crazy Horse Memorial

The brochure says Crazy Horse Memorial is the "World's largest mountain carving in progress".  I have no reason to doubt that.  We think that it will still be "in progress" for a long, long time.

The memorial is being carved out of Thunderhead Mountain in the Black Hills.  When completed it will be 641' long and 563' high.  It's definitely one great big chunk of rock!  Avenue of the Chiefs gives a good perspective.
They say that all four 60' high heads of Mount Rushmore would fit into Crazy Horse's head.  Yes, it will definitely be monumental!  (Yep, pun intended.  Deal with it.)  When we were watched the video at Mount Rushmore, they said they spent the mornings placing dynamite, set off the explosion at noon, and did clean-up in the afternoons.  Apparently explosions around here are not nearly so well choreographed.  We couldn't see that they were doing any work at all.
The sculpture was begun by Korczak Ziolkowski in 1948.  Since his death in 1982, it's been funded by private donations and the (high) admission fees, and now it's a non-profit run by the Ziolkowski family.  With more than 1 million visitors a year, they're definitely racking in the money.  It seems to me that the family is using it for lots of other things rather than the sculpture.

The Indian Museum of North America has some beautiful things, but I think it has a very amateurish feel to it--big open spaces with no cohesion to the exhibits.
The Mountain Museum includes the Sculptor's Log Studio Home and is adjacent to the Sculptor's Workshop--and they're even worse.  Obviously Korczak needed something to do during the cold South Dakota winters, so there are other pieces he's done in a more moderate size.  The bronze is of Chief Henry Standing Bear.
I guess there's a lot of criticism about the statue from Native Americans, believing it to be a desecration of the landscape and sacred ground of the Black Hills.  On the other hand, while we were there, we went to the Native Dancing program given by two Sioux men, so apparently they don't all object.

There's a 1/34th scale model outside, which is pretty cool.  (I have no idea why he decided on 1:34.  I'm not even going to think about playing around with the math.)  Korczak depicted Crazy Horse pointing over his horse's head because he was supposed to have said, "My lands are where my dead lie buried."
There are other sculptures near the exit.  This one is called "Fighting Stallions".
But, of course, the point of the whole place is the very unfinished statue of Crazy Horse.  This is the last view we had on the way out.  If you scroll up and look at the one I took when we first got there, you'll see that about the only thing that's changed are cloud formations.
Follow the link for more pictures:  Crazy Horse Memorial 

7/27-30/14 - Custer SP

We camped at Hart Ranch for a week to see the Black Hills.  As long as we're here for the scenery, most of our trips took us through Custer State Park.  The "entrance license" was $15 and it's good for a week.  (Still can't get the sticky stuff off the inside of the windshield!)
On the way to Wind Cave NP, we drove straight through on US-16A--if you could possibly call that windy, twisty road "straight"!  It took us past the State Game Lodge, which served as the Summer White House for President Calvin Coolidge in 1927.  Coolidge learned to fish while he was here, and ended up extending his visit because he enjoyed it so much.  He was definitely a lucky fisherman--lucky because the locals restocked the creek where he fished every night with fish from a nearby trout hatchery!
On the way back from the cave, we drove the Wildlife Loop Road.  This is the 100th anniversary of the reintroduction of bison (buffalo) into Custer SP.  They keep a summer herd about 1,300 buffalo which they round up every September, then auction off 400 or so to other places that want their own buffalo herds.  (The Buffalo Wallow Chili Cookoff is on the last day--I suppose that's what happens to the buffalo that don't get sold.)  Who would have guessed that critters so large were so practiced at camouflage!  We did see a small herd...those dark specks out toward the trees are buffalo.  Trust me on this.
We also saw more pronghorn antelope.
There were a whole bunch of people out in a field and we couldn't figure out what they were doing.  They were out there petting the "wild" burros.  Go figure!  (We also saw a small herd of wild horses but they look just like regular horses so I didn't take a picture.  If you want to see horses, take a drive in the country.)
I wanted to see more wildlife than we did.  I wanted buffalo roaming, and deer and antelope playing.  I wanted elk and coyotes, mountain goats and bighorn sheep.  I wasn't planning on seeing cougars up close, but if one was snacking on a camouflaged buffalo, that would have been okay.  However...they weren't hanging around the Wildlife Loop that day.

Iron Mountain Road

The next day we went to Mount Rushmore.  The Iron Mountain Road squiggles through the NE section of the park, then continues up to Keystone.  The road was built in 1933 when cars were much narrower, and when people were apparently unconcerned about drop-offs and lack of guard rails.  

All the maps list exact dimensions of each tunnel, so you have a chance to panic a little bit before you get there. It must be really hard rock because the road builders didn't make a lot of effort in making the tunnels very big.  Tunnel 3 is one of the larger ones:  13'4" (4.1m) and 12'4" (3.8m) high. They're all one-lane, so it's just you and the rock!  (Oh, by the way, the week we were here is the week before the big motorcycle rally at Sturgis, just a few miles up the road.  Actually, that would be all the roads because there are bikers everywhere!)
The road splits into an even narrower ribbon through the trees, then there's a major switchback after this tunnel, and then glimpses of Mount Rushmore. 
Tunnel 2 is a wee bit larger, but it's hard to tell.  It's certainly not a road we'd be able to take the 5th wheel on.
The road splits again, and then it's time for Tunnel 1, the largest one at 14'0" (4.3m) wide and 12'9" (3.9m) high, still not big enough to drag a trailer through.  Theoretically you can view Mount Rushmore through Tunnel 1, but my picture while we were in the tunnel didn't turn out very well, and George wouldn't turn around and go back.  (sigh)  
Another thing that the Iron Mountain Road is famous for is Pigtail Bridges, a form of bridge that loops over it's own road, like on this hairpin curve, allowing the road to climb rapidly. Then it was on to Mount Rushmore.

Needles Highway

Two days later we went to the Crazy Horse Memorial, back again through Custer SP up Hwy 87, the Needles Highway.  It's another mountain highway, with twists and turns and tunnels (6 through 4), but this time with the distraction of granite needles and spires and pinnacles wherever you look.
This road was built in 1922, so tunnels are even narrower.  Tunnel 6 is 9'0" (2.7m) wide, 12'3" (3.7m) high.  
They call these the "Cathedral Spires".  Aren't they great?
Tunnel 5 is the smallest at 8'4" wide (2.5m) and 12.0' (3.7m) high.  It's also pretty spectacular. The first picture is from a viewpoint nearby.  After you go through the tunnel, you go between some needles.  (BTW, it's not raining in the middle tunnel picture--it's bugs on the windshield.  We felt a responsibility to help reduce the large insect population of South Dakota.)
We had lunch at Sylvan Lake.
Except for the hanging on the edge of a cliff, Tunnel 4 at 10'6" (3.2m) wide and 10'7" (3.2m) high seemed relatively simple.  
A few more needles--but no more needle's eyes--and it was on to Crazy Horse.
More pictures of Custer State Park