Saturday, October 3, 2015

Homestead and Homestake

We drove across Montana without any major mishaps and reached the Black Hills the last week of August.  There were still renters in our house, so we spent a few days in Rapid City doing chores like getting our car re-registered and talking to a lawyer about a South Dakota living trust, then we moved on to Lead (just south of Deadwood) where the house sits.

The South Dakota house with motorhome and dumpster
The major purpose of this visit (besides checking to see that the place was still standing) was to finally clear out enough of the detritus from our former lives to allow guests to actually park cars in the garage and fill the closets with their own clothes instead of ours.  As boring as this sounds, the reality was even worse, so we are not going to cover that at all except to note that Vicki ended up donating (I kid you not) about 300 lbs of clothes to charity.  The homeless females in Rapid City that can wear her size are going to be ecstatic. (We won't go into exactly what that size is.)

We had continued to drive through smoke all the way across Montana but when we got to the Black Hills a couple of things happened.  After a couple of windy days and a  thunder storm, the smoke and haze mostly cleared out, and in the last 50 miles or so we apparently drove out of the rain shadow of the Rocky Mountains and the landscape turned green and beautiful.  This encouraged us to take a few days off from our labors to enjoy the Hills.

Meet Stan
Meet Stan.  He is the star attraction of the Black Hills Institute of Geologic Research, at their small museum in Hill City, dedicated to all things fossil.  They do real research but aren't directly connected to any university or foundation.  They apparently fund their activities by being world class experts in the preparation and reconstruction of fossils which are eventually displayed in other museums throughout the world.  They have a display room with several hundred fossils crammed into it.  And most of them ARE fossils. About two thirds of the specimens on display are actual rocks, not casts or reproductions.  That in itself is fairly unusual.

Stan is one of the best known T. Rex specimens ever collected.  He comes from the Hell's Creek formation in South Dakota (the same deposits where "Sue" was found) and was originally excavated by the Black Hills Institute
A bevy of T. Rexes
beginning in 1992.  They have sold about 30 copies to various museums around the world (and one to Disney World) at $100,000 apiece and the specimen has been used in mechanical studies to elucidate tyrannosaur physiology.  The BHI also has copies of a half dozen other T. Rex skulls on display for comparison.  They are impressive.

One of the paleontologists on staff is an expert on Ammonites, the ancestors of the modern day Nautalus, so the museum has a fair number of high grade Ammonite fossils.  I don't know what they looked like originally, but some of these have been polished to a fine opalescent finish and look pretty cool.  Overall, it is a great collection, if you have any interest in that sort of thing.  The only problem is that they could really use another 5000 sq. ft. to display all their stuff in a little more organized and relaxed setting.
Fat and happy fish fossil
Vicki and Big Al the Allosaurus

They could use a little more space
Where the buffalo roam and the antelope play
Donkey begging for handouts
One of our favorite places is Custer State Park in the southern Black Hills and we took a day off to go drive through this area again even though we have been there a few times before.  We went around the wildlife loop and saw more bison and pronghorns.  They also have a herd of feral donkeys in the park that are descendants of animals that were once used to haul tourists over the hills.  When motorized conveyances took over that job, they just let the animals go and they have apparently thrived.  They seem to make up a good portion of their living begging from tourists and the
Prairie dog
park administrators don't seem to mind.  It is strictly forbidden to feed the "wild" animals but feeding these feral donkeys is not only allowed but encouraged.  We also drove through a prairie dog town that we did not remember from previous visits, though we must have driven past it.

The Homestake Mine in Lead, SD has been called the richest 100 sq miles on earth.  It was actively mined for gold and silver for 126
Homestake Mine pit, just out the back door of the museum
years, closing in 2002.  It was aquired early on, using less than honest means, by George Hearst (father of William Randolph) who
had learned how to mine and process quartz veins in California. 
The result of processing one ton of gold ore.
The ore at Homestake was not rich, but there was a lot of it.  The little nugget shown in the picture shows how much gold they got for processing a ton of Homestake ore.  But underground the mine extended over a 100 sq mile area and went over 8000 feet deep, the largest, deepest mine in the western hemisphere.

In the 1960s an abandoned part of the mine was used by Raymond Davis Jr. to build a laboratory for studying neutrinos emitted from the sun.  The 8000 feet of rock covering were needed to filter out cosmic rays that contaminated such experiments.  He found solar neutrinos but not enough of them, leading to major rethinking of solar physics and elementary particles.  The problem was finally solved in the 1990s.  The site has more recently been taken over by Sanford Labs. as a research center for detecting dark matter and ongoing study of neutrinos.  They built administrative offices and a small museum in town at the edge of the old mine pit. These weren't there when we came last year. We visited the museum but a tour down the mine shaft wasn't in our schedule and will have to be put off until another visit.  That's OK.  Well need to keep coming back anyway to check on our minuscule real estate holdings.

1 comment:

  1. I was sure glad the smoke had cleared out by the time we got to Montana this year. We're in Medora right now and there is a prairie dog town just down the road from us. And a bison just wandered through the campground yesterday. There's a restaurant in Hill City - I think it's the Alpine Inn or something like that. German food. And it was soooo good. Hope to get back there.