October 2, 2010

Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

Today we visited the 7th oldest national park in the nation. Created in 1903, Wind Cave represents the 4th largest known cave in the world at over 117 miles of mapped passages and also protects 26,000 acres of pristine prairies. Wind Cave also protects 95% of the world's known boxwork formations.

We signed up for the 1 hour "Garden of Eden" tour, but instead they went ahead and gave us the 1.5 hour
"Natural Entrance Tour". This bonus meant seeing much more of the cave, but there was a reason we wanted the shorter tour. Primarily it was because we weren't sure Hilina could handle 90 minutes in the cave with no food, drink, or bathroom options.

We started the tour out at the tiny little "natural entrance", the only known one in the cave. It was first discovered when wind was found blowing out of it ferociously back in the 1890's. A skinny little 16 year old boy was lowered down this tiny hole with just a candle and string to guide him. He came back and said it was amazing down there and tours began almost immediately thereafter.

A family feud around 1900 over ownership rights and money caused lawsuits to be filed. Since the land was originally claimed as part of the Homestead Act but no one actually lived there and people were using mining claims to justify the tours but were not really mining anything, a judge ordered that nobodies claims were valid and reverted control to the U.S. Government. Shortly thereafter, Theodore Roosevelt convinced congress to set the area aside as a national park and game reserve.

While Wind Cave lacks the famous cave features of stalagmites and so forth you see in many other caves, it contains the most extensive sets of boxwork in the world. Boxwork is actually older than the cave itself. It formed when cracks in the limstone filled with gypsum and calcite. As these cracks crystalized, they actually formed a substance harder than the surrounding limestone itself.

Thus, when water began to dissolve the limestone and create the cave, the boxwork was left behind because it resisted this erosion. Thus, boxwork does not grow, it actually shrinks over time, just slower than the limestone around it.

As one point when we stopped, I noticed there was a bat on the ceiling. Probably a little brown. I did not mean to flash my camera on it, I did so before I saw it. But, once I mentioned it to the tour, suddenly everyone was flashing their cameras at it and it started covering its head with its wings trying to shield its eyes. It was a rude mid-day wake up call for this little bat, but it did not fly away. The tour guide said bats are actually fairly rare in the cave, because the entrance to the cave is so small.

Well, Hilina was super-excited about the cave in the beginning, but started getting crabby in the last 20 minutes or so. Luckily she did not throw a tamtrum or lose her cool. She just sort of complained a bit and dragged her feet. But, what was to come next got her really excited.

Next post, I'll discuss our Adventures on the Surface of Wind Cave National Park!

No comments: