“ Historic Indian hunting ground in Wyoming, USA. „
Vore Buffalo Jump
WHY DID YOU GO THERE?
We changed our plans and didn't go into North Dakota because of torrential rains and so we had an extra couple of nights staying in Spearfish South Dakota. We looked around for things that we might find interesting to visit and decided to drive to see The Devil's Tower in Wyoming. On the way back we noticed a sign to Vore Buffalo Jump and followed the directions to this site.
When we arrived the gate was open but there was no-one else there and the car park was empty. We got out and found that the huge chain link gate was unlocked and wide open so we investigated a bit further. The wooden visitors centre was locked up and so we presumed that it was closed and we were just about to get back in the car when a man down below shouted at us to come on down.
This was in fact the owner of the farm on which this site is situated so the owner of the site too. He was absolutely delightful and full of enthusiasm for the project which was still very much in progress of unearthing the bones on the site.
WHAT IS A BUFFALO JUMP?
Let me just explain a bit about what a 'buffalo jump' is. The plains Indians very much depended on buffalo or bison for meat, skins and bones and one way they would hunt the buffalo was to herd them towards a cliff edge and then the buffalo would fall over the edge and be killed as they fell into the hole below. This site was exactly that, one of the holes where the buffalo would land once herded towards the top edge.
This site is a natural sink hole and was used by many different Plains Indian tribes throughout the 1500-1700s. During the 300years that this buffalo jump was use these tribes went through rapid cultural changes. The layers of bones and artefacts that have been preserved at the buffalo jump have given archaeologists the chance to chart these changes in culture.
HOW TO GET THERE
The site is in the state of Wyoming and makes a great place to visit in close proximity to Sundance and The Devil's Tower.
The site is signed off the old Highway US14. Westbound visitors use exit 205 at Beulah and if coming from the east then take ext 199.
WHEN IS IT OPEN?
If we had read the brochures more carefully we would have known that it wasn't open when we visted but then we only noticed the signs at the side of the Highway so luckily we were unaware it wasn't open to visitors otherwise we would have missed the experience.
The site opens from mid June to Labor Day and from 8.30 am to 7pm.
It costs $5 for adults and children are $1.
We had a free tour courtesy of the owner but did make a donation into the box in the wooden shop cum visitor centre.
The owner explained that the site was discovered during the construction of Highway I-90 in the early 1970's. His father had been very keen on having the site preserved and In 1989, the family of Woodrow and Doris Vore decided to donate 8.25 acres that included the sinkhole to the University of Wyoming and stipulated that it be developed as a research and education center within 12 years. Sadly nothing happened within that time after the initial dig and so the site was willed to his sons (our guide) and they decide to create the non-profit Vore Buffalo Jump Foundation (VBJF).
This foundation is deeply committed to realizing the Vore Site's potential. It is considered a very important archeological site for scientific, educational, and cultural programs and they really want to make this site available to visitors from all parts of the world. They have big plans which include educational facilities, a visitor centre and then around the top of the sink hole to build tipis and reconstructions of tribal camps so that visitors can really learn about the lives of the Plains Indian tribes.
WHAT IS THERE TODAY?
At present there is a large wooden hut at the top which is where visitors pay to come in. There is a model of the area and many educational poster displays to read.
You then walk down into the sink hole. Our guide was busy putting in huge drainage pipes when we visited so he had a tractor and big pipes all along the pathway. He is extremely keen to have the site open for all to enjoy and the task he was undertaking was no mean fete for quite a mature gentleman by himself we thought. They are tough out there in the western states.
Once down in the hole there is a large marquee or tent which protects the exposed site from the elements. A wooden platform allows you to walk above the excavated area and clearly see the layer upon layer of bones that have been exposed. Quite a few of the excavated bones have been taken to the University for investigation and the education of students while some are still at the site with explanatory labels. It is all pretty basic at the present time and it is very much a project under development. Visitors at the present time will be seeing a site that is very much an archeological dig in progress and not a posh visitor centre. You have to walk down a rough path to get there so it would be fun in the wet with lots of mud.
In recent years over the summer, the University of Wyoming's Summer Archaeological Field School has brought a crew of students under the direction of Dr. Charles Reher to excavate at the site. Visitors are able to watch the work and ask questions of the students. You are really made to feel a part of the exploration according to our guide.
Throughout the time the site is open to visitors there are always at least two members of staff available to explain the site. We of course had a very personal tour from the owner who was so enthusiastic about the project. He professed to not be that knowledgeable but he impressed us. He explained how the Indians would use the different parts of the buffalo for food, containers, toys, tipis, clothes and so much more.
I really hope they do achieve what they are planning as this would make a perfect site for an educational interactive interpretative centre for people from all over the world to learn about the culture of the different Plains Indian tribes of this area.
The plans for the site are quite ambitious with a recreation of Indian tipi villages around the top and various interpretative neo earth lodges and visitor's centre.
We were taken up to the present wooden hut which house some exhibits and also sells T shirts, caps, post cards and some replica arrow heads. We were not able to purchase anything as our guide hadn't got the system up for the season. We were very keen to give a donation though as he had been so very kind and welcoming to us and gave us a very interesting personal guided tour. His enthusiasm rubbed off and I do hope his plans come to fruition as it is a very worthwhile and fascinating place to visit even as it is at this present time in its starting stages.
So if you are this area visiting Mount Rushmore and Deadwood then allow an extra day to drive out to Wyoming, visit the Devil's Tower and on the way drive through Sundance (where the film festival is help) where you can visit a small but interesting museum with artifacts of the area then go on to Vore Buffalo jump on your way back. We did all three in a day from Spearfish and it was a very do able day trip. Just make sure that you go in the months it is open as you may not be as lucky as we were though.
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