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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wind Cave - South Dakota

Over the years my son and I have visited several caves/caverns in five different states.  I already posted about Blanchard Springs Cavern which is one of my favorites and is located in Arkansas.  Another cave we enjoyed is just off of US 385 in scenic Custer State Park north of Hot Springs, South Dakota: Wind Cave National Park.

In 1903 Wind Cave became the first cave worldwide to be designated a national park.  Wind Cave is also the 4th longest cave in the world and is contains 95% of the known "boxwork" formations, a unique honeycomb type formation.
Boxwork is found in the middle and lower levels of Wind Cave.
The park offers five different tours, including a candlelight tour.  We decided to take the 1.25 mile Natural Entrance Cave Tour.  The tour began with a walk to the natural entrance where we could feel the wind either leaving or entering the cave (depending on barometric pressure). The "wind hole" is where the cavern got its name.  We then proceeded to the man-made entrance of the cave.  
There are a lot of steps on the tour, but most are headed down.
Shortly the trail descended a long stairway.  There are a total of 300 steps on the tour with very few going up.  We walked though some really narrow places and several times the top of the cave was low enough we had to duck to get through.  One larger guy in our party had some close encounters with the cave walls.
This is NOT the larger guy in our party - just a happy biker enjoying the cave.
We saw a lot of the unique boxwork formations throughout the tour.  The formations are more unique but less colorful than the formations in many of the caverns we have toured.
Another unique area of the cave was Snowball Alley.   This area's ceiling was covered with small formations that looked similar to snow.   
Ceiling in Snowball Alley
The tour took us deep into the cave.  We viewed big open rooms as well as the tight walkways.  The guide led us the innermost area for that particular tour and had us sit down.  After providing us with some history and geological information he turned off the lights (after warning us not to move and told us what he was doing - don't want any surprises when you are hundreds of feet below the surface.).  The darkness is amazing!  It is difficult to explain that something can be darker than night - darker than when I close my eyes.  It was a very eerie sensation.
An old exploratory hole from above
The tour was moderate to strenuous.  There was a lot of up and down on the trail.  It was a good think that at the end of the tour we rode an elevator back up to the visitor center.  It was an educational and fun tour.  I am glad we took the time to visit Wind Cave National Park.  

If you are heading up to South Dakota make plans to tour Wind Cave.  You will be glad you did.


  1. Motoroz:

    We have only been into one cave. The Oregon Caves are on the top of a mountain in southern Oregon. It is considered strenuous, you have to "qualify" and lots of catwalks and climbing, not for the claustrophobic. You often have to wriggle through slits or climb.

    bobskoot: wet coast scootin

  2. Great post. I used to do a lot of caving here in the UK, and one of the most stunning scenes I have ever seen was Straw Chamber in the Easegill system. This is a huge chamber (think of the inside of a cathedral) with a flat roof, and from the roof hang millions of straw stalactites, each one hollow with a drop of water on the tip. When your headtorch lights them up, it's like a Christmas tree. Unforgettable. Image here.

    I've done the 'turn off the light' thing, too. It's bizarre when you put your hand directly in front of your eyes and you literally cannot see anything at all - darker than the darkest, starless night. Quite disturbing. I'm assuming it's a limestone cave, as the boxwork (according to Wikipedia) is made of calcite, but I'd love to know how they were formed.

    Fascinating post, and thank you.

  3. Richard, thanks for the link to the photo, that is a really great picture. Caves are very interesting.

    Bob, I haven't made it up to your area yet, but hope to and hopefully visit the Oregon Caves.

  4. Great post and photos! I'm glad to hear you got to experience this wonderful cave that South Dakota has to offer. Safe travels!

    SD Office of Tourism

  5. What a fun adventure! Thanks for sharing it.
    The only cave I've been in was a lava tube in central Oregon. It was a self-guided tour, so just the two of us. I can believe you about the level of darkness. On our visit it felt oppressive and that was without turning off the light. In the cavernous areas the light wouldn't reach the walls/ceiling, just light then nothing. Very eery.

  6. Cave's most of them i just don't fit (6'5" and 300 lbs) ha-ha. love the photos.
    Big Al