October 3, 2010

Adventures on the Surface of Wind Cave National Park

Well, after the fun we had underground, it was time to do a hike on the surface of the 26,000 acres national park, that contains excellent examples of mixed-grass prairies and ponderosa pine woodlands.

It turns out, the park has actually arranged to purchase an additional 5,500 acres of land that will become part of the park in the next couple of years. It turns out, the owner of  the ranchland next to the park has put in his will that he wanted his ranch donated to the park when he died. Well, after he died, his wife decided she'd rather give it to her sons rather than follow the father's wishes. But, the sons began fighting over who got how much land and what to do with it. One of them wanted to sell it to developers to building houses while the other want to continue ranching. The whole thing ended up in court and then a judge ultimately ruled that the family would have to put it up for auction. In the end, the the National Resources Conservation Fund won the auction for $7.5 million dollars and will be transferring the land to Wind Cave National Park once congress authorizes it.

Seeing the big bull as we climbed up the ridge
Anyways, back to the hike. It certainly was an adventure. As we hiked along, we saw all kinds of bison droppings and buffalo wallows. But, about a 1 mile or so from the trailhead, there stood a massive bull bison right on the trail. His back was turned to us, but we were upwind of him and when he caught of wiff of us, he turned to look at us.

We immediately picked Hilina up and put her in my backpack. I told her that we didn't want to scare the buffalo, or he might head-butt us (like she saw a mountain goat do at Hurricane Ridge this summer), so she had to be really quiet. Hilina immediately went into whisper mode.

We did a huge berth around this guy, as we descended the slope out of site and even into the trees. After that relief, we quickly came across two other bulls, but this time they were laying in the grass chilling. They didn't seem concerned with us. Nonetheless, we did a large circle through the grass to avoid them.

Bufflo prints and mud next to the creek
It is one thing to philosophically be excited about such things as bison running free on the prairie once again after they were nearly exterminated by the white man. It is quite another to be hiking across the prairie and come across such enormous beasts with no protection from the vehicle, just you and your hiking stick. It definitely puts your own status on this planet in perspective!

Hilina examining a pregnant preying mantis ready to lay her eggs
I just posted the full trail description for the 4.5 mile loop we did at Wind Cave National Park with many more images on the Hikemaster's Trail Description Site at: 

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