July 28, 2014

7/27/14 - Wind Cave NP

Here's what I didn't know about Wind Cave National Park:
  • It's in Black Hills of South Dakota.  (Actually, I've heard of the Black Hills!)
  • It was the 7th designated National Park.  (1903, Teddy Roosevelt)
  • It was the 1st cave designated as a National Park.  (It's a National Park?)
  • It's the 2nd longest cave in the US.  (It was 3rd until very recently.)
  • It's the 6th longest cave in the world.  (Two of the others are in the US too.)
  • 95% of the world's boxwork formations are in Wind Cave.  (Boxwork???)
  • It's a 3-dimensional maze cave.  (Too scary to even contemplate!)
Elevator Building
Over 140 miles is way longer than I'd ever be interested in spending underground!  In fact, I've decided that although caves are nice to visit, spelunking is definitely not my idea of a good time.  I don't get claustrophobic, but crawling around in true darkness through very small holes on very hard rock, banging up my head and my knees, trying to find somewhere no one's ever been before?  Nope--I'll stick with the guided tours, elevators and electric lights.  

We got to the Visitor Center and signed up for the Fairgrounds Tour--1/2 mile long, lasts 1-1/2 hours.  

From above ground you'd never guess there was a cave under your feet.  The cowboys who discovered it heard a whistling noise and followed it to a hole in the ground where wind was blowing out.  
The Ranger who was our tour guide crammed a group of us into the elevator (building and original shaft built by the CCC; since updated but not enlarged) and took us down in groups.  If you're claustrophobic, this is the first test.  The rest of the tour was just fine.
Our tour was considered the most strenuous of the walking tours with 450 stairs, including one flight of 90 steps UP!  (That's as opposed to the crawling "Wild Cave Tour" which we didn't even consider--see paragraph 2 above!)
Wind Cave is mostly a dry cave, so the water that drips down through the rock in places like Carlsbad to form stalactites and stalagmites isn't available.  But before the cave was even formed, acidic water dripped down into cracks in the limestone, turning into calcite, then the acid in the water dissolved the limestone, leaving just the blades of calcite projecting from the walls and ceilings.  It's rare in other caves, but there's lots here.

Some of it's very delicate and some so big that they call it "cratework".
Some features called speleogens were formed as the cave formed.  It's a lot prettier than the ceilings in most caves.

This stuff is called "popcorn", a dripstone that the park newspaper describes as petrified cave sweat.  Don't know who thought that would be endearing, but it's pretty anyway.  And it's easy to identify without a reference book.
What I really wanted to see here was frostwork, super-delicate aragonite crystals.  Some of it has needles that have grown really long, but the ones we saw were much smaller. This is nestled in with the popcorn.
Although we didn't see bats (we've yet to see a bat anywhere near a cave!), we did see some pronghorn antelope on the way home.

I've put more pictures from Wind Cave on Flickr:  Wind Cave NP

Post a comment.

  1. The black Hills of Dakota. When Mum was a little girl she used to LOVE that song "take me back to the black hills, the black hills of Dakota". I think she heard it in Roy Rogers movies. She had no idea where it was ..... she just loved the song. Yes ...... she's pretty old!! She would love to see those hills though. Maybe one day!! She's enjoying your trip very much!!


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