Ellsworth AFB - Wind Cave National Park
31 May 2011
|The rains have decided to take a break and this morning was positively gorgeous for us to take a visit to another National Park (NP). This one is located in the Black Hills region; Wind Cave National Park.
We got underway shortly after 9:30 and opted to take the route that would take us through Custer State Park, one of our very favorites from our previous visit here. We wanted to see if it was as beautiful as we remembered. And yes, it certainly was everything and more than we recalled.
As we proceeded through the park, there he was – the lone bull bison standing alongside the road just noshing on the grasses from all the recent rains. He was totally oblivious to us stopping and snapping pics of him, guess we weren’t the first ones who’d done that! The scenery driving through Custer State Park is absolutely spectacular. Every turn in the road yields beautiful sights of the mountains, streams, and grasslands. We reached our turn off to head south to reach Wind Cave NP shortly after we exited the park.
And that’s when the trip started to get more fun! We saw wild turkeys, white tailed deer with lots of fawns, prairie dogs posing on the hilltops, pronghorns, a few antelope with their babies, and HERDS of bison at three or four various places along the highway. In one instance the herd was coming down from the hillside through the trees with just about every Mom having a little calf frolicking along her side. We had to stop the car to allow them to cross the road in front of us seeming to be totally unaware of our presence. It was so much fun to watch the little calves and how playful they were running next to their “parents” while they lumbered along, heads down and just plodding along.
We then reached the Wind Cave NP and in time for their tour for the “middle” tour being offered. Seems the first tour is just down in the cave entrance with the ranger providing information about the cave’s history, the second one was an hour and a half long and got to see more of the cave – again, with a ranger (the one we opted to go on). And, the third tour was much longer, much more involved and we planned on heading to Jewel Cave National Monument after we left, so didn’t want that one.
According to Sioux legend, the buffalo came from the hole where the wind blows! Or, the Wind Cave entrance.
The Wind Cave area has been protected since 1903, when it became our seventh oldest national park. Regarded as sacred by American Indians, the cave was not found by settlers until 1881, when two brothers, Jesse and Tom Bingham, heard a loud whistling noise. The sound led them to a small hole in the ground, the cave’s only natural opening. A wind was said to blow with such force out of the hole that it knocked Jesse’s hat off. The wind, which gave the cave its name, is created by differences between atmospheric pressures in the cave and outside. The wind can still be noticed at the cave entrance and that’s no exaggeration at all. It was already pretty windy all day, but when we reached the entrance the ranger told us it was gusting to speeds up to 40 mph! Saw lots of hats fly off folks’ heads as they neared the entry-way.
This is something we have also marveled about – what in the world possesses an individual to leave a seemingly safe environment and go into an area leaving behind the familiar world and venture into the dark, unknown and almost lifeless depths of a cave? Do they do it for the possibility of hidden treasures? Curiosity? Going where no man or woman has gone before? And maybe the answer is “all of the above”! And thank goodness they did the exploration and paved the way for the rest of us.
The ranger told us that the whole area still has not all been discovered. There are over 108 miles of “found” portions of the cave and still more being discovered every year. The Wind Cave is one of the world’s oldest caves and to be there when it began we would need to go back in time over 320 million years. Parts of the limestone that constitute the upper levels of the Wind Cave were then dissolved into cave passageways. As ancient ocean levels fluctuated, these passages were filled with sediments. Beneath the ocean a thick layer of sediments continued to be deposited above that limestone.
About 60 million years ago, the forces that uplifted the Rocky Mountains also uplifted the modern Black Hills, producing large fractures and cracks in the overlying limestone. Then over millions of years, water moving slowly through those cracks dissolved the limestone to produce the complex maze of the cave’s passages. The erosion changed surface drainage patterns and that caused subsurface water levels to drop, draining the cave passages. The newer passages intersected the older filled cave revealing the red clay and sandstone sediments from 320 million years ago. It’s become a three dimensional network of passages and created one of the most complex caves in the entire world.
What makes Wind Cave NP to be considered a world-class cave aren’t the few stalactites and stalagmites, but the boxwork- thin, honeycomb-shaped structures of calcite that protrude from the walls and ceilings. We thoroughly enjoyed the tour and the knowledge the ranger imparted about the cave and he fielded LOTS of questions from the folks on the tour.
From there, we proceeded to Jewel Cave – or so we thought! As we were back on the main highway heading back north, we had two large semi trucks whiz by us at speeds that made the Jeep “sway” and unfortunately, one of them also threw up a rock that hit the driver’s side of our front window! At that point, we both decided we would visit Jewel Cave another day and head back to Rapid City to get this repaired before it began to spider more across the front window! We were lucky – one place was close-by, it’s repaired and we were on our way in less than 45 minutes!
Kind of a funky way to end such a fun outing, but things happen and it’s now repaired and the weather is to be good for the rest of the week while we are here and we still have more on our list!
Till the next time. . .