The Journey Museum

By Jordan Neuwirth and Jason Scholz

The Journey Museum is located in Rapid City, South Dakota. This museum opened in May of 1997 with the goal of educating the public about this regions fascinating history. This museum features a geology and paleontology exhibit, an archeological exhibit, a Sioux Indian exhibit, and a pioneer exhibit. These exhibits combine to display the history of the area as well as the culture of the area. Figure 1 displays a picture of the Journey Museum lit up at night.

Figure 1: Journey Museum on a peaceful evening
Figure 1: Journey Museum on a peaceful evening

The Major Imprint that was left from this museum was the total variety within each period of history that was displayed prominently in each section of the museum. This museum featured seamless transitions from the creation of the Black hills and surrounding areas and its humble beginnings to what shaped it into the area we know it as today. The beginning of this journey through history begins in a starlit room that echoed the sentiment of a Native American man. His voice came through repeatedly and issued a statement of his beliefs about the Native American viewpoint on the creation of this scared land. Once we got through this prominent display, the stage was set for the journey beginning with the geological creation of this sacred land.

The walls of this opening section featured a consistent geological theme. These walls were adorned with many different minerals and rock formations. Each mineral and/or rock formation had a display that featured a video. These videos displayed the processes that helped to create/form the rock/mineral. Along with this video was a brief description of the area in which these were found as well as a sample of the mineral/ or rock. Within this section there was also a bin of numbered rocks that you could try to identify. Each of the 50 some rocks/minerals were ones that could be found or located throughout the black hills region.

The next section was by far the most interesting and really stole the show for the museum. This section detailed the areas paleontological history. This section did a very good job at showing the many varieties of fossils that can be and have been found in this area as well as others in the United States, but focused on the Black hills and South Dakota in general.   The very first fossil that was displayed was the Allosourus(figure 2).

Figure 2: Allosaurus featured at the Journey Museum.
Figure 2: Allosaurus featured at the Journey Museum.

This creature could grow to sizes that were very comparable to that of the tyrannosaurus rex. A captivating feature of this creature was its claws which reinforced the idea that this was a major player in the food chain during its time. The next major fossil to be displayed was a triceratops skull. While this creature is not found in the Black Hills it was very interesting and a very unique part of the trip. Later on in the section there was a display that featured a triceratops being tracked by a tyrannosaurus Rex. This display featured sound and even a mirror to make it seem as if the t-rex was chasing you.

The next part of this section discussed the western interior seaway. This was a vast sea that once stretched the Gulf of Mexico all the way up into modern day Canada. This section featured fossils and artist renderings that depicted marine reptiles that would have populated the once prominent western interior seaway. The main creature discussed was the plesiosaurus. This creature was thought to have been able to grow up to lengths of 25 feet and was the top of the food chain in the aquatic ecosystem that was once present.

Figure 3: Plesiosaurus display featured at the Journey Museum
Figure 3: Plesiosaurus display featured at the Journey Museum

Another marine reptile that has had fossils discovered in the area is a giant turtle known as archelon. This turtle grew to roughly the same size and weight of what we know today as a Volkswagen beetle. Both of these creatures were impressive and fearsome.

A major section within this section was a simulated field lab and dig site that detailed the various tools and processes that paleontologists use to complete their work. It was in this section that maps were displayed that showed various species that have been found in states around the US, these mainly focused on those in the west. Also within this section there were a couple of mock dig areas, where a person could dig through the sand and try to identify the different bones that were hidden in the area. This ends the section of the paleontological section and leads to the start of the archaeological section of the museum.

The start of the archaeological area started with an archaeological dig, and the tools that the Archaeologists would have used. This area transitioned into the tools made and used by the Native Americans and the peoples of the area that have been unearthed in the region. These tools included those used to hunt, as well as those used to farm, as well as a multitude of other artifacts that were used by the native people. A major theme of this section was the sheer innovation. The section that included the tools then transitioned into the clothing that was used by these people. As expected the clothing was made out of the hides from different animals. These hides included those of deer, and buffalo. Moving on from the clothing was the importance of these people’s villages. The villages would be situated differently for each different tribe or village. Some of these would include the door opening from the east.

The next part of this journey showed in detail the history of the white man in the region, by documenting the rise of the culture in the region through both force and spirit. This section more so than any other was a bit overwhelming due to the sheer variety and depth both historically and physically of the displays. The display cases often where overwhelmed with items and that led to be a common theme throughout the rest of this section. This made it a bit harder to follow. A major portion of this section documented the rise of deadwood and those whom helped to found it. The other mainstay of this section was mining. This has played a pivotal role in the area. The final point of interest amongst the many was the Calvary’s role in the area. Which seen in the next section helped to dramatically alter this areas future.

The final section of this museum showed a complete and thorough documentation as wells representation of the infamous battles of the area between the Calvary and the Native Americans. These battles drastically altered the course of history from the area as well as for the Native Americans. The battles documented were Custer’s last stand, the Battle of little big horn, and the battle of Wounded Knee. While all of these battles did not take place in the black hills region, they have been a major determinant in shaping the culture of the black hills. It was the culmination of these battles that led to what could be seen as the ultimate final decline of Native American culture, and is what shifted them from being a free ranging nation of people whom lived off of the land, to being wards of the department of defense and located in reservations placed across the nation. The most prominent and troubled is of course the Pine Ridge.

After this section there was a very brief set of displays that showed the differences in ecology from a historical standpoint. This display documented shifts in vegetation as well as the overall difference in species populations, namely the loss of keystone species and larger herbivores that helped to influence the vegetation. The plants and ecosystem we see today are the direct effect of these changes that have occurred over time.

This museum is relevant to the class Home on the Range because it discusses a key area of geological, paleontological, archeological, cultural, ecological, and historical importance. This area helped to shape a massive part of the Great Plains history and even the landscape. Much of what we know about the history of the Great Plains can be drawn from this area. All in all this entire museum encompassed a great wealth of ideas and history that are ideally suited to the topics covered in this class.