Monday, June 15, 2015

A Day at Wind Cave National Park

One of the things we are most looking forward to in our ramble across the Black Hills of South Dakota is seeing a lot of wildlife...we were able to fulfill that desire almost immediately after entering Wind Cave National Park! Located just 10 miles north of our current home base in Hot Springs, SD, Wind Cave has not only a cave, but also herds of bison, elk and pronghorn roaming over 28,000 acres of rolling grasslands and pine forest.

Wind cave became our 8th National Park in 1903. In 1913, 14 bison were reintroduced to the park, today the herd numbers about 350, which is the optimum number for the size of the park. Another endangered species, the black-footed ferret, was also reintroduced in the park, as a balance to the large prairie dog population.

Moments after driving in to Wind Cave National Park we encountered dozens of bison lounging on the hillsides.

These two were eyeing each other warily.

Looks like the guy on the left did  a face plant in the mud!

After a while we tore ourselves away from the bison and drove to the Centennial trail head hoping to do a 4.75 mile loop hike. We started the loop on the Lookout Point trail, but soon came to a creek without a bridge. Though we continued on, improvising bridges along the way, eventually we came to such a large, dense patch of poison oak (and we weren't wearing long pants) that we had to turn back. We still ended up with a gorgeous 3 mile loop hike.

We traversed emerald green creek bottom meadows lined with rugged stone cliffs.

Bison contribute to the plant life...

Our sole animal sighting on this trail.

The Centennial trail had many good bridges but the Lookout Point trail was lacking several.
Often the logs were rotting in place so crossing them was perilous.

Testing a rotting log before placing ones faith on it.

Mountain lion would be the only predator of bison here, though old age could have taken this one as well.

We had to turn around soon after this photo was taken. Though we had a good bridge over the creek,
the poison oak was thick on the other side, not a good match for our bare legs.

Since our longer hike was thwarted by poison oak we continued our drive through the park looking for a short trail for some more exercise and views. The Rankin Ridge one mile loop satisfied those requirements easily. Though the fire lookout tower atop the ridge is no longer in use, the views for the casual hiker are magnificent.

Looking East over the vast green expanse of the Black Hills.

Next stop, the Wind Cave National Park visitor center. Here you can learn about the flora and fauna and cave system in the park and choose from five different ranger-guided cave tours. Though the national park entrance is free, cave tours come with a price, and only Access or Senior passes offer discounts. Three of the tours are first come, first served, the Candlelight and Wild Cave tours require reservations.

We had read that there can be long waits for cave tours so we weren't really expecting to get on one since it was mid afternoon on a Sunday, but the next available tour, the Fairgrounds Route, had room so we paid our $12 each and joined a group totaling 40 persons.

Wind Cave is extensive, about 140 miles of passageways have been discovered, and barometric wind studies estimate that only five percent of the total cave has been discovered. The tours cover only eight miles of the cave. Our tour covered 2/3 of a mile, with 450 stairs and took about 1.5 hours. Tours are very slow going as the cement walkways are narrow and the ranger has to go slow to make sure no one wanders off on a different path.

Making our way down one of many sections of steps into the bowels of the cave.

In the midsection of the cave we saw huge sections of Boxwork Formations,
thin, honeycomb-shaped structures of calcite that protrude from the walls and ceiling.

A ceiling covered in Boxwork.

After the tour we walked to the Natural Entrance to see the feature that led to the discovery of the cave. This small hole, about 8" x 10", caused a whistling noise leading two brothers to it and blowing the hat off one of them. The wind is caused by differences between atmospheric pressures in the cave and outside.

My hand is in the photo for size reference, but indeed, I could feel the wind blowing out of the hole!

As we neared the exit of the national park we were treated to a bison jam!

There were lots of cute little youngsters around!

What a magnificent looking beast!

The End!


  1. Ohhhh... the Black Hills looks so green and beautiful. Your photos make me homesick. Don't forget to visit Custer State Park and drive through the Needles Highway. Two of my favorite places in "the Hills."

  2. We just loved Hot Springs and Wind Cave. You really got some great pictures. Love your bison calf. I would have been so excited to come upon those bones. Sorry you had to turn back but I think a very good call. I know poison oak and poison ivy aren't the same plant but they look enough alike that I can't really tell the difference. I just know to avoid.

  3. Love it there. Great bison photos!

  4. Too bad the trail wasn't better maintained, but what you shared was beautiful. Up and down elevations are one thing, but stairs are not my friend. Think I'm going to have to remedy that if I'm going to enjoy many caves :-) Love the Spring calf and the incredible adult!

  5. What fun! Aren't the bison just wonderful and the babies are so darn cute. Glad you were able to get on a tour of the cave.

  6. That is one thing I yet have to be cognizant of, poison oak or poison ivy. I have to learn how to identify them and stay away from it. Good call on your part.
    Beautiful country side and it is so green out there! Hopefully it will still be green when we get there in Aug/Sept.

  7. You guys are finding such cool places! I think we're just going to follow in your footsteps when we head that direction. Beautiful landscapes, and such great wildlife sightings. It looks like you guys are the only ones out there on the trails -- except for the bison and pronghorn….

  8. Sure looks like fun