This summer on our road trip to the Midwest, we decided to visit a few of the national parks along the route, including two in South Dakota. We really didn’t know what to expect, but our hopes weren’t that high. We are so pleased to say that we were surprised by the beauty of that state — we really loved South Dakota! It’s kind of good to set the bar low sometimes!
Wind Cave National Park was our first stop. Wind Cave is not the longest cave in the US, that spot’s taken by Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, but it’s still the 6th largest cave in the world and it’s quite impressive. Wind Cave gets its name because it’s actually windy. The pressure inside the cave, which can change from day to day, either creates a wind or a vacuum, and if you stand outside the cave and put your hand in front of the (very small) original opening to the cave, you can feel it. Actually, only rangers are allowed to go to the original opening now, so they put a ribbon in front of the opening to show visitors what its doing on a particular day. For us, it was blowing, as you can see below.
Most of this park’s attraction, obviously, is below ground. To get there, visitors are required to take guided tours into the cave. There are several tours to choose from of various lengths and difficulty level. This is to protect both the cave and the visitors. It would be really easy to get lost in the cave! It is also easy to damage the cave. The cave formations do not respond well to the chemicals humans have in/on their skin, so even a slight touch of the wall by a visitor is detrimental. Entry to the park itself is free, and the tours are offered for a minimal fee.
Visitors see only very small sections of the cave, but rangers and speleologists (scientists who study caves – I just learned this word!) continue to explore today. So far, scientists have surveyed over 140 miles of tunnels in the cave (up from just about 10 miles in 1965), and they said they don’t think they are anywhere near finding the end! This cave is best known for a formation called boxwork, which looks kind of like rectangular honeycombs or kind of like spiderwebs. They’re actually crystallized fins left behind when limestone dissolved. Some of the boxes are small, maybe one or two inches across. Some of them are four to six inches across. They’re quite pretty and it’s amazing how large some of the formations are. Up close, when you can see the crystals, they look like frosted flakes. A great bonus of the cave tours in the summer is that the temperature in the cave is about 53 degrees F (about 11C). On a hot summer day in South Dakota, descending into that is bliss!
Above ground there are bison and pronghorns grazing throughout the park, and lots of prairie dogs! Those little guys are just the cutest. There are lots of birds in this park, too. We were lucky enough to see Nighthawks soaring, lots of Kingbirds, and even Red-headed Woodpeckers in our campsite! The color on their heads is really stunning. (No photos of them because it was too hard to get close enough!) In our campsite we also saw a bison (!) and a deer. The campgrounds in South Dakota’s national parks are quite open compared to the campgrounds we’re used to in the west, but our site had some trees and lots of snags, so we got to watch lots of birds. Since we’re bird nerds, this was quite nice. There were also not many people in this campground, so we got to enjoy its peace & quiet.
Wind Cave National Park is not the most popular park nor is it the most glamorous park, but it was a beautiful place, and we’re glad we visited it. If you’ll be in South Dakota, it’s worth a stop. You’re sure to enjoy it.
Which of your travel destinations have exceeded your expectations? We hope you enjoy your week or your weekend, wherever it takes you!