South Dakota is famous for in situ stone carvings and jewelry made with Black Hills gemstones, but there is so much more to interest geologists and paleontologists on a visit to the Land of Infinite Variety. When it comes to a wide array of minerals and rocks to collect, South Dakota ranks very highly, with the Black Hills being a top-five location for the entire country. You can typically hunt for rocks on federal or state land, but in the latter case you may need a permit, and federal exceptions sometimes apply.
There are also museums and attractions that specifically cater to those with an interest in geology. Here are a few points of interest that you should check out on your South Dakota visit.
1. National Rockhound and Lapidary Hall of Fame
This museum is an attraction within an attraction. It is located inside the Pioneer Auto Museum in the town of Murdo in eastern South Dakota. This facility honors notable geologists from around the country.
2. Petrified Wood Park
Located in the northwestern town of Lemmon, South Dakota, the Petrified Wood Park is not an in situ collection of petrified wood. If that’s what you want to see, there are other attractions in South Dakota that offer it. Rather, the Petrified Wood Park is a place where specimens were collected and used to make outdoor works of art. However, there is also a collection of petrified wood in the adjacent museum. The park dates back to the 1930s, and the city has owned it for approximately 70 years.
3. Jewel Cave National Monument
South Dakota is home to multiple cave systems. One of the most significant is Jewel Cave, which is in fact the second-longest cave in the world. It gets its name from the spectacular rock formations, especially the glittering calcite crystals.
4. South Dakota Museum of Geology
This attraction is located on the campus of the School of Mines and Technology in the Southern Black Hills town of Rapid City. Its focus is primarily educational, and it is appropriate for all ages. This museum is also a good attraction for those vacationing on a budget because admission is completely free.
5. The Mammoth Site
Millions of years ago, a sinkhole formed around the area that is now the town of Hot Springs, South Dakota, in the Southern Black Hills. Dozens of mammoths, mostly Columbian but some wooly mammoths, died after becoming trapped there, their bones remaining preserved for millennia. The fossils were uncovered in the mid-’70s and the site set aside for excavation. Paleontological research is ongoing at The Mammoth Site, making it more than just another tourist attraction.
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