Wind Cave, South Dakota
This is a sacred space for the Lakota people, as it is part of the Lakota creation story. Here, the earth itself seems to “breathe,” inhaling or exhaling according to the barometric pressure. Standing right here, on a hot day, you can feel a cool wind coming from that small hole.
Have you ever stood in complete darkness? Normally, even in the darkest room, your eyes will eventually “adjust” – your pupils will dilate to take in the minute amount of light around you – and you will be able to see objects or shapes. Not so, here in Wind Cave. When you tour the cave, your guide will turn out the lights and you will momentarily stand in total darkness. No light reaches these depths. If you spent too much time in the cave, you would eventually go blind. Your eyes would no longer react to light, at all.
Now, imagine you are 17-year-old Alvin F. McDonald. Your family lives right over the cave, with a trap door into it. You become obsessive and entrepreneurial – exploring nearly ten miles of the cave structure, taking intrepid visitors on candlelit tours of the cave, and selling mineral samples taken from the depths. You grow “homesick” for the cave when illness keeps you from it for a day or two.
One of the stories our guide told us involved Alvin selling half a candle to the cave tourists for a nickle. There was no electric lighting in the depths of the cave, back then. Once down there, and several chambers into the cave, how much would you pay for the other half of that candle?
You can read Alvin McDonald’s journal for detailed information regarding his exploration of Wind Cave.
Astonishingly, Alvin’s life and explorations were cut short – not by a collapse of any part of the cave, but after he contracted typhus at the World’s Fair, at the age of twenty.
Wind Cave contains the best examples of the mineral formation known as boxwork.
Boxwork is found in small amounts in other caves, but perhaps in no other cave in the world is boxwork so well-formed and abundant as in Wind Cave. Boxwork is made of thin blades of calcite that project from cave walls and ceilings, forming a honeycomb pattern. The fins intersect one another at various angles, forming ‘boxes’ on all cave surfaces. Boxwork is largely confined to dolomite layers in the middle and lower levels of Wind Cave. (From Boxwork – Wind Cave National Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov))
If you’re interested in geology, as I am, you can read more about how the caves of South Dakota were formed. It’s a fascinating story going back 350 million years. It can be hard to imagine South Dakota as a tropical sea, but it gets easier as you drive through The Badlands.
Travel Tip: Evans Plunge in Hot Springs is closed on Tuesdays, so we didn’t get to take a dip. But the town is pretty. We saw a small waterfall there.
Rapid City is the perfect place to stay while visiting the national parks and monuments of South Dakota and nearby Wyoming. The airport is small – easy in, easy out. The city itself isn’t tiny, and there are good accommodations. We stayed at the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott, which is home to the 30,000 sq. foot WaTiki Indoor Water Park – a great place for families traveling with children. It’s next door
We ate dinner at Murphy’s Pub & Grill, where we enjoyed Chips with Pulled Pork, and Bacon-Wrapped Buffalo Meatloaf.
After dinner, I got a photo with former President Franklin Pierce, arguably the second worst President in US History. I tried to wrestle his cane from his grasp, but he held fast to it, just as he did to his wrong-headed beliefs in life.
Pierce is part of the City of Presidents, which consists of statues commissioned of all US Presidents in 2000.
Stay tuned… Mount Rushmore is up next!
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