Saturday, August 9, 2014

Out West 2014: Black Hills, South Dakota

Keystone is a tourist hell-hole. It's where intellectually engaged tourists go to die and be reincarnated as Indian taco-eating, chainsaw sculpture-buying, "boardwalk"-walking, hokey tourist trap-visiting tourists.

It also has motel vacancies at reasonable prices during the heavy tourist season, however, and it's conveniently located near all the Black Hills sites that you want to see, so that's where we stayed for two freakin' nights. Blurgh.

I wanted to see Mount Rushmore lit at night, which they do during the summer, so we had the day free here on purpose to visit the paleontology museum of our choice. Our options were the Mammoth Site (mammoth and other remains still preserved in large part in situ), the Museum of Geology at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (huge collection, research-oriented), and the Museum @ Black Hills Institute (run by the guys behind the Sue controversy). Of the three, although the Museum @ Black Hills Institute is the smallest, we'd never seen a paleontology museum that wasn't run by an educational institute, and Matt and I were gossipily interested in seeing the place behind the people behind Sue, so we went there.

In retrospect, the Museum of Geology would have been a better choice, but the Museum @ Black Hills was still really interesting--imagine several lifetimes' worth of major fossil finds and casts, priceless both monetarily and to scholarly interest... set up all pell-mell in an old auditorium.

It was disorienting and overwhelming, with little flow or organization or contextual layout, so your response wants to be like that of a kid in a candy store, a lot of "OOH, look at that!" and then darting over to "Wow! Look over there!" and back over again to "Oh, check THAT out!"

It was interesting to see a collection that, although I'm sure it's carefully curated (I heard that there's an exponential amount of specimens in storage compared to what's on display), doesn't *look* as neatly and professionally curated, and therefore as sanitized, as a museum's collection always is. Many fossils are still partly encased in their field jackets, which, yes, looks really cool, but also cuts way down on the prep hours for each fossil:

It's a great choice, really, because it lets you see the muddle that a fossil often is found in. Check out the disorder in this skull:

It's overwhelming, though. How can you possibly look at all of this? You can't even SEE much of it!

Nevertheless, of course, we managed to spend a very happy time browsing and exclaiming and finding our favorites of all sorts of things:

Swag related to the Sue controversy!
Although I thought that Meteor Crater was too expensive, I do love that everywhere we go, we find fragments of that meteor displayed, and we have the context for them.
Edmontosaurus skeleton! This complete cast was compiled from bones from multiple skeletons.

One aspect of this particular museum that I really liked was that its information, when presented, was not written for the lowest common denominator. Here is information that someone who already has some knowledge of paleontology will still find really interesting!
anatomy of a T. rex skull
dinosaurs local to this area
After the museum, we tooled around the Black Hills for a few hours--Will and I wanted to visit a rock shop, so we did (I bought a big piece of petrified wood that I'm going to figure out how to polish, Will bought a big piece of obsidian, and Syd bought a set of rocks that will spark if you strike them together in a dark place), Matt and I wanted to visit a winery, so we did (this is why I may have drunk half a bottle of wine every night for the next week), and I wanted to check out the progress on the Crazy Horse sculpture, so we did:

We came home to drink wine, let the kids swim in the motel swimming pool, and pack them a dinner to take with us to Mount Rushmore that evening. 

I may have also taken a nap. Yay, wine!

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