Wind Cave National Park, SD

After another splurge for breakfast at Perkins Restaurant we headed back south to explore Wind Cave National Park. We were nearing the end of our time here in South Dakota and wouldn’t have enough time to check out all of the many caves and cave systems in the Black Hills so we asked for guidance. The cave most locals recommended was Wind Cave although Jewel Cave was a close second.

Red Wing Backbird outside the Foothills Inn

Our luck with the weather seemed to have run out as well, as if to tell us our time was up! So as we headed out there was a light mist and no sun. Well, we weren’t planning to sit on a beach or hike the mountains . We would be in a cave so I guess it doesn’t matter if it’s raining or not.

On our way to Wind Cave National Park we cut through Custer State Park again and followed the Wildlife Loop Road. I guess even the animals figured it was too nasty to be out as there was very little activity. We spotted a couple of antelope in the distance but this was the lightest day for animal sightings since we’d been here.

As we neared the entrance to Wind Cave National Park we thought we saw a Pronghorn with a baby in a ravine by the road. We turned around and tried to get back to see for sure. We had to wait for a lot of traffic to pass before we could turn around and by then the animal or animals had disappeared. So we turned around again and headed into the park.

The Visitor Center is a clean, modern facility and it was quite busy for a rainy day. I guess everyone felt like we did about the weather.

There were a lot of tours to chose from but it was almost lunchtime so we decided to take the shorter Natural Entrance Cave tour. Since it was almost lunch time I checked my blood sugar and it was fine. There is no food, candy or gum allowed in the cave so I wouldn’t have any “reserve” with me. The tour was about an hour long so I figured I’d be fine. (Boy was I wrong but more on that later)

We were directed out to a roofed pavilion to wait for the ranger. It was definitely cool and damp but everyone on the tour seemed to be enjoying themselves in spite of the weather.

Pretty soon our ranger arrived. I think he said he said his name was Ranger Nick. He is a teacher by profession and does the ranger gig part time. He was a slight man but he knew how to project his voice so there was no problem hearing his stories and instructions. Our tour was made up of all ages and physical abilities.

Ranger Nick's orientation

Ranger Nick gave us an orientation doing a great job of involving the children in the group. Then he led us off down the path toward the cave entrance. There was one more stop before we entered the cave and that was at the spot where the cave “breathes”.

Wind Cave is a huge cave system and it is still being explored but for years no one even knew it was there. The Native Americans spoke of the “hole that breathes cool air” and they may have explored some of the cave system. Following up on those legends, explorers finally found the “hole” and sure enough a breeze was blowing out of it.

At this point in the narrative, Ranger Nick climbed down into a depression next to a hole in the rock wall. He asked for a volunteer and one of the kids joined him. The little boy was given a ribbon and told to hold it in front of the hole. We could all see the breeze lift the ribbon and blow it out like a flag.

The "Hole that Breathes"

We turned around then and headed back to the entrance and into the cave itself.

Down we go

Almost immediately the cave started to slope downward. Before we would finish we would climb down around 300 stairs.

As we progressed through the cave, Ranger Nick stopped often and pointed out various formations. The rarest but  most abundant of which is the boxwood formation. Wind Cave has more boxwood than any other cave in the world. It’s hard to believe but Ranger Nick said early miners actually used the fragile formation as post office boxes leaving letters and notes in the natural boxes. A partial list of the types of formations we viewed , I can’t remember all of them, is: Boxwork, helictite bushes, quartz rinds, dogtooth and nailhead spar, quartz, button popcorn, sawtooth flowstone, gypsum luster, flowers, starbursts, and hair and conulites.

Bottom of the Cave tour

Again I don’t know if I am remembering correctly, but when we reached the last room on the tour I recall that Ranger Nick told us how many feet it was below the surface. I think he said 228 ft but I could be wrong. If anyone knows the lowest point on the Cave Entrance Tour, please post it in the comments!

It was about this time that I began to feel really shaky and weak. I was glad the tour was wrapping up because I suspected that the mild walking had made my blood sugar drop more quickly than I had anticipated. We all loaded into elevators that took us back the the surface. I think I’d have been fine then if they had opened into the visitor center and I could have gotten something to eat but turned out that we still had a short walk but a small incline. It was the incline that was about to do me in. Ranger Nick came over to see if I was ok and said that arrangements could have been made for me as I have a medical condition, (diabetes). With Sandy’s help I made it back to the visitor center. They didn’t have a snack bar but they did have a room with some vending machines. I got something from there. I don’t even remember what and sat for about 15 minutes after eating. By then I was feeling better and we headed out to find someplace for lunch.

I was feeling a bit foolish but lesson learned. Take the glucose tablets or something even when food is not allowed!






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