Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Mammoth Undertaking -- The Elephants' Graveyard

In 1974, a bulldozer driver, working on a new development near Hot Springs, South Dakota, hit something hard. The object seemed to be a tusk and work was halted. Fortunately, paleontologist Dr. Larry Agenbroad was contacted and he confirmed suspicion that the find was significant -- the tusk of a prehistoric mammoth. How lucky that the landowners, Phil and Elenora Anderson, were interested in more than just a quick profit on their property! They gave Dr. Agenbroad two years to research the extent and importance of the site.

And it is important -- possibly the largest mammoth site in the world. The site is a giant sinkhole which claimed dozens and dozens of animals. So far, 56 mammoths (53 Columbian and 3 wooly) have been identified and Dr. Agenbroad estimates that that many or more remain interred in the dried earth. Other animals found on the site include a giant short-faced bear, camels, llamas, wolves and fish.

All the identifiable mammoths were male -- most of them estimated at 12 to 29 years of age. In modern elephant societies, young males are typically kicked out of the group when they start to get rowdy. It difficult to think too much about the situations leading to their deaths. The sinkhole was filled with water -- warm, artesian spring water -- and the hole was probably surrounded with the lushest grass. It was, no doubt, an appealing spot but deadly to any who ventured too close to the edge. And many did.

Over thousands of years, the sinkhole drained. Minerals in the water had formed a kind of cement with the bones and sediment. The ground around the sinkhole eroded away, leaving a hill -- looking like all the other rolling hills in the area.

After researching the site, Dr. Agenbroad recommended that the bones be left in-situ and efforts began to raise money for more exploration and facilities. Today all but 20' of the sinkhole is covered by huge, climate-controlled visitor center.

Dr. Agenbroad is the principal investigator at the site and directs all scientific activities. He's gracious and accessible and a born teacher. When docents get children whose "whys" exceed their "becauses," they call in Dr. Agenbroad. "I love visiting with these kids," he says, "and I tell them, 'If you're really interested, come back when you're 16.' Fifteen have," he continues. "Fourteen are in college and one just graduated from the University of Texas."

The Mammoth Site is a do-not-miss for travelers to South Dakota and so is Dr. Agenbroad.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Hurrah for South Dakota

I'll never make fun of South Dakota again. Nebraska, maybe, South Dakota, never. I have just had the most incredible day. (Actually, I've had a couple of great days but no computer access -- so I'm going with today.) Picnic with a paleontologist and the most beautiful countryside I've ever seen. Tour of the Wild Mustang sanctuary. Zoe, you would have been in horse heaven. Time for dinner -- we eat every few hours! More when I get home.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Great Men

I have been to the mountain! We had a magnificent dinner at the foot of Mount Rushmore -- special guest, President Calvin Coolidge -- who was more verbal, and quite probably more humorous than when he was alive. My highlight was sitting next to Nick Clifford, one of only two living carvers who worked on Mt. Rushmore. What a great gentleman. He patiently answered the same questions over and over -- the same questions he's been answering for the last how many years. "When did you work on the mountain? How long did you work on the mountain? How old were you when you worked on the mountain? How old are you now? Was it scary?" And the biggie, "Did you have porta-potties?"
After the dinner, we viewed a 22-minute video with inspiring words and pictures about the carving of the mountain and about the great men carved there -- ending with beautiful scenes of America and the sound of "America, the Beautiful" being sung. By then it was dark and we all went outside to see the spotlighted images on the mountainside. I could have sat and just soaked it in -- but it was late and the bus was waiting.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Sensory Overload

Wow! What a day yesterday! Highlights included a photo op from Crazy Horse's hand. In case you don't know -- this is the more-than-monumental statue that is being carved close to Mount Rushmore. The sculptor began it 60 years ago with just a small compressor and jack hammer. He died but his family is continuing the effort -- all without government funding. Crazy Horse's head is almost done and lots of the mountain has been blasted away for the rest of the statue which features him on his horse (emerging from the rock of the mountain.) This statue is/will be so large that all four heads from Mount Rushmore would fit in Crazy Horse's head! We got up close and personal with a view that costs the average traveler $125. What a sight! And that was just the beginning. There's a great collection of Indian artifacts, the artist's studio and a nice restaurant on the property with lots more planned. We met Ruth, the sculptor's widow (I can't spell the names right now -- got to look them up!) who said, "We have a lot of dreams and they're big!" She's an amazing woman.
Next came a drive on the Norbeck Scenic Trail and Needles Highway -- lots of wildlife, beautiful vistas and now I have to see National Treasure II again because some of it was filmed here.
The day ended with a visit to Prairie Edge -- a store with the most extensive and impressive aggregation of Indian art I have ever seen and a dinner at a New York-class restaurant. The owner/chef will be cooking at the James Beard House in a couple of weeks. The Corn Exchange has been written up in the New York Times, Gourmet Magazine and other prestigious pubs. Just goes to show -- great talent can flourish anywhere!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Life in the Fast Lane

I had two days home, a deadline and laundry before heading back to the airport to fly to Rapid City, South Dakota, for the SATW Central States meeting. No time to blog about the great trip to Arkansas. So now that I'm here (S.D.) with no scheduled activities until this evening, I'll try to catch up a bit. Pictures will have to wait until I return home!
One of many highlights of the Arkansas trip was a girl friends' getaway at Mountain Harbor Resort and Spa at Lake Ouachita. (That's pronounced Wash-it-aw for you furriners.) My cabin was lovely and included a hot tub on the back deck overlooking the lake. (For any of you who are finicky about hot tubbing, the staff completely drains and cleans each hot tub after every guest! I like that!) The property includes the original lodge with smaller rooms, the cabins and condos.
Also on the property is Turtle Cove Spa -- a lovely facility with a great staff. I had one of their holistic treatments which included body harmonics, tuning forks and heated quartz crystals -- supposed to balance your chakras. I read the description to daughter Zoe who opined that it was either a fabulous and valuable treatment or complete B.S. I'm not sure I was any more balanced when I left than when I came in, but I did feel great -- so, if it didn't help, it didn't hurt, either. And, of course, it included a body massage, so I'll endorse it!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Simply Brill!!!

As a travel writer, I spend a lot of time in the air -- and even more time in airports. That, inevitably, means some time in airport bathrooms. Oklahoma City is top of the pot when it comes to clean commodes. Not just the porcelain fixture itself but its surroundings. And part of this, I propose, is thanks to the installation of Brill seat covers. No more trying to paper the seat with little squares or hoping you can land on the seat cover without the papers (or paper) flying off or, even worse, discovering the paper sticks to the seat because of latent moisture! And no more remnants of those paper plasterings left on the floor. A pass of the hand in front of a sensor and a plastic covering slides around the oval. I give Little Rock high marks for using this system also. My only worry -- is it the same piece of plastic just going around and around? Naw, I'm sure it isn't. The Brits have a word for this invention -- brilliant -- or bril for short.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Ultimate Oyster

I'm not a fan of raw oysters so going to the cradle of Florida's oyster industry didn't really excite me. Franklin County (Apalachicola) produces 90 % of Florida's oyster crop and 10 % of all the oysters consumed in the U.S. I made sure that I ate plenty of seafood -- shrimp particularly -- at every meal except breakfasts. And I did eat fried oysters and baked oysters and oyster chowder. Then, on one of the boat trips, Justin anchored the boat, jumped out and picked oysters right off the bottom of the bay. He shucked them right then and passed them around -- also providing crackers and hot sauce. At first, I declined, then decided I could be a good sport. Wow! Talk about fresh and tender. Even my friend Mary from Baltimore swore they were better than Chesapeake Bay oysters. They were really good. Not good enough that I'll order raw oysters in a restaurant but if I'm ever on a boat in Apalachicola Bay again.....