NPS Photo by Horrocks
1st Trip: On 7/13/2007, Rod Horrocks led Art and Peg Palmer to the Ever Ending Room area in the Historic Section where they discovered abandoned sticks of dynamite.
Trip Report: I led Art and Peg Palmer on an off-trail geology trip to look at the excavated stopes that I had rediscovered a few years before off of the Fairgrounds Tour Route in the Historic Section. The Palmer's were at Wind Cave studying paleofill and were anxious to see them. I figure that the stopes were excavated in the early to mid 1930's, probably when the CCC was looking for a location to dig a new elevator shaft. We started at Two-Cent Stope, where I showed them the spoil pile, the tool marks in the paleofill on the walls, and the discarded wood that the CCC had obviously used for shoring. I then took them to a second nearby stope to look at some spectacular laminated paleofill.
When we got to the unnamed stope, the Palmers were thrilled with the paleofill and started photographing it.
While they were photographing, I started looking around. Noticing something artificial looking on a ledge, I took a closer look. There were two cylinders sitting on some cloth. The cylinders were tied with string and the ends of the stiff paper cylinders were folded in. There was something printed on them, but I couldn't make it out. I wondered if they were dynamite and asked Art what he thought of them. He immediately said, "That looks like dynamite". Since we know that the Two Cent Stope was excavated before 1935, it makes sense that this second stope was excavated at the same time, probably in connection with the search for a place to put the elevator shaft. I hypothesized that they must have put the bag, with 1 1/2 sticks of dynamite, on the ledge and forgotten about it.
Art suggested that we name the stope Dynamite Stope. I told him that I would when I map it. We then had a discussion of whether or not the dynamite was inert. Although, we thought it probably was, we decided not to touch it nevertheless. Art took some high resolution digital photo of the dynamite before we left.
2nd Trip: On 8/15/2007, Rod Horrocks led Marc Ohms, Anthony Blackmon, Dustin Jolman, & Colby Maxwell to Dynamite Stope in the Historic Section to remove the historic dynamite.
Trip Report: On August 13th, I finally got around to showing the pictures of the dynamite we found on 7/13/07 in the Dynamite Stope to Tom Farrell. Tom reminded me that he had heard rumors of some dynamite near the Frostwork Ledge in 2003 at a Wind Cave Reunion and he had told me about it then. However, at the time I didn't know where it was, so there was nothing for me to follow up on and I apparently forgot about that report. What Tom reminded me was that Jim Palmer had told him at that reunion that he had found some dynamite in a burlap bag near the Frostwork ledge in 1970. He reported that the dynamite had beads of moisture on it. When I rediscovered it in July, the dynamite was on top of the bag and it no longer had beads on it; which seems to indicate that it had been handled by someone. Tom immediately showed the picture to our Chief of Visitor Protection and Law Enforcement, Rick Mossman. Rick sent the picture to the Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit at Ellsworth Air Force Base. They responded on Tuesday saying it was ammonia dynamite and they would be down the next day to dispose of it. Even though it had been sitting there since 1935, they were taking this very seriously (I suspect that it may have sounded like a really cool field trip too).
At 1:00 PM, three members of the EOD unit from Ellsworth showed up. They had just gotten back from six months in Iraq disposing of IED's planted by insurgents. Tech Sergeant Anthony Blackmon, who goes by Tony, came into our conference room while Senior Airman Dustin Jolman and Airman First Class Colby Maxwell waited with their vehicle. Because there were thermite grenades in their vehicle, some of them had to stay with it. We briefed Tony on the history of the dynamite, showed him maps and pictures, and came up with a plan.
Once we got the three fatigue-clad airman outfitted with caving gear, I led the group to the site. Marc Ohms took our digital camera and got pictures. Once we arrived, Dustin Jolman analyzed the dynamite. He confirmed that there were no crystals and the dynamite was inert. I was relieved, because that meant they did not have to pour oil on the dynamite to further neutralize it. It also meant that they didn' t have to burn the dynamite in place, a prospect I was not thrilled about for cave protection reasons. I got pictures of Dustin loading the artifacts in the ammo box he had drug along and then carrying the box out of the area. Once we got back to Frostwork Ledge, we took some hero shots of the group and headed out to the Mixing Circle to dispose of it.
Tony dug an 8-inch deep hole at the spot where we have burned slash in the past. Once we got the bag in the sunlight, we realized there were printed words on it. After some deciphering, we were able to determine that it said, "SWAN'S DOWN, Roller Process, Rapid City, S. DAK." We'll have to do some research to determine what Swan's Down was. The airman then rigged up a thermite grenade to a remote detonator and we retreated a 1/4 mile away.
After waiting 12 minutes, they gave me the honor of triggering it by handing me the keypad detonator with an attached four-foot antenna. They had me yell, "Fire In The Hole" real loud three times before pushing the two key activation buttons simultaneously. Nothing happened, so they tried it themselves-still nothing. They went back to the site and reset everything and had me stand on top of their tailgate this time, theorizing the receiver was too low on the ground to be hit by the antenna. This time it worked, but the blasting cap blew the grenade out of the hole.
They had to go back and put a second grenade in the hole with the dynamite. This one produced lots of light and smoke. They gave me the grenade pin as a souvenir. After a couple of minutes we were allowed to approach the hole. When we got there, there was still molten metal on the bottom of the hole and it was giving off a lot of heat. The airman told us they thermite grenade burns at 3,900 degrees. Rick called over the waiting fire crew and had them hook up a hose to cool it down. When the water hit the metal, it just steamed. We could hear the water boiling in the hole. After 20 seconds, the water started filling up the hole. Most impressive. After some time it cooled enough that they were able to retrieve the metal fragments from the brown soupy water. This was defiantly not your typical day at work.
Click here to return to Caving Narratives
Did You Know?
Lewis and Clark, while on their journey up the Missouri River in 1804, noted that this "wild dog of the prairie...appears here in infinite numbers." More...