To the pioneers who traveled the Oregon Trail in the 19th century, Chimney Rock was a very welcome sight and a cause for celebration because it marked a transition point in the long, difficult journey to a better life in the Oregon Territory. Chimney Rock is located just about 1/3 of the way between the trail's starting and ending points, so the travelers knew when they saw it that a third of their journey was now behind them. It also marks the start of a change of landscape on the trail - they would soon be leaving the open plains and moving into the more rugged lands leading into the Rocky Mountains. It's also highly visible; its distinctive shape can be seen from many miles away to the east. Imagine their feeling, after traveling across seemingly endless prairies for weeks and weeks, of seeing this famous milepost and realizing how far they've already come on their journey.
South Dakota's Badlands are best known for their scenery, but they also boast a sizable wildlife community featuring many of the animals that live in the nearby Black Hills. The Badlands are home to bison, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and, of course, prairie dogs. Several large prairie dog towns can be found on the western part of the park, which is where I saw this one. Its town was perched on a flat area right on the edge of the badlands wall. Doesn't it look like it's enjoying that view?
The Mammoth Site, in the beautiful town of Hot Springs, South Dakota, is a truly unique place. What makes it so special is not the types of bones found here - mammoth skeletons have been unearthed throughout the Northern Hemisphere - but the sheer number of them. Over 60 mammoths have been found in an area that is only 36,000 square feet (that's a little more than half the size of a football field), and there are probably still more hidden below waiting to be uncovered.
The bones in the site date to approximately 26,000 years ago, and were only uncovered in 1974. In that year, a construction company was commissioned to work on a new housing development on the southern edge of Hot Springs. As they were digging on a particular hill, they began to find some odd bones, which were soon identified as belonging to a mammoth. The land owner, thankfully, agreed to allow scientists to investigate the area, and more and more bones were discovered. Once the significance of the site was realized, it was saved from becoming a housing development and was turned into a museum, and excavation continues today. Over 60 mammoths have been found so far, as well as a few other animals like prehistoric camels, bears, wolves, llamas, and rodents.
I was standing on top of Mount Rushmore's parking garage when I took this picture, which just goes to show you that spectacular views can be found just about everywhere in the Black Hills. I ended a busy day of sightseeing with a trip to the monument, which is open quite late in the summer months, and as I was walking around there, the sky was already starting to show patches of pink and orange in the west. As I was heading back to my car about an hour before sunset, and the sky was a lovely orange color, and storm clouds were beginning to move in. The timing worked out great for me, not only because it made for some great photography, but also because it didn't start raining until after I was safely tucked away in my motel room.
Museum of the American Bison
Rapid City's newest museum just opened earlier this year, and is dedicated to telling the story of the Great Plains' most iconic resident: the bison. The museum chronicles the history of North America's largest land animal from their evolutionary origins 5 million years ago to their modern struggles for survival.
It's a pretty unique museum; I can't think of another museum that's dedicated to one animal species. But it fits in well in the Black Hills since the bison has been such an important part of the region's history.
I say, your sideburns are looking resplendent today, Mr. Van Buren.
Mount Rushmore is easily the most famous tourist attraction in the Black Hills, but it's not the only place in the area where you can come face to face with the nation's presidents. To see all of them together, look no further than Rapid City. And, I mean, come on, isn't seeing all 42 former presidents better than seeing just 4 of them? Serious missed opportunity there, Mount Rushmore - you should have left room for 38 more faces up on that mountain!!
Hi, I'm Alex! I'm always on the lookout for new and exciting travel experiences, and am happy to share them with you here!