Monday, September 5, 2016

Wind Cave National Park

August 29 - 31, 2016:

It’s Monday, I like traveling on Mondays, almost feel like I’m going back to work.  It’s an interesting ride on routes 16 and 385 southwest into the Black Hills, past dozens of tacky tourist attractions, past Mt. Rushmore, past Crazy Horse, past Custer State Park to Wind Cave National Park near Pringle, SD.  Wind Cave is a fairly obscure National Park with a first served first come Elk Mountain campground that rarely fills up.  It is the usual National Park dry camping site with water spigots.  

Another scenic campsite

Wind Cave sits in a beautiful hilly grassland setting with forested fringe areas.  There are several trails, but the real attraction is all underground.  Wind Cave is a sacred emergence place in the Lakota Indians creation story.  In 1881 two local cowboys found the cave site and in 1889 the South Dakota Mining Company eventually staked a claim and sent J.D. McDonald there to explore the cave for mining potential.  No valuable minerals or gems were found, but J.D. McDonald realized the caves potential as a tourist attraction and stayed.  His 16 year old son Alvin explored the Cave extensively and was soon leading tours into it.  Next a partnership was started with J.D. Stadler who was a promoter and built a Hotel on the site.  Ownership of the cave eventually became a disputed issue, ending up in a court case which took a weird turn when the federal government ruled that neither McDonald or Stadler owned the Cave as they had not satisfied the homesteading requirements.  All very unfortunate for them, but lucky for us as they would have commercialized it extensively and ruined it.  As a result, it was deemed government property and Theodore Roosevelt made it a National Park in 1903. 

Miles of beautiful rolling Prairie
That is the original cave entrance that attracted
the attention of the cowboys when they heard
a whistling noise as air escaped

The McDonald family did good by recognizing
the beauty and importance of the Cave

Wind Cave is one of the largest and most complex Caves in the US presently with 143 miles of known passages, on three different levels all within 1.2 square miles.  Much of this cave remains unexplored and most of the exploration is done by volunteers, with new passages constantly being discovered.  It is not the usual cave with stalactites and stalagmites formed by dripping water, it is a dry cave formed in Limestone with Boxwork formations, in fact 95% of all the known boxwood cave formations in the world are in this cave.

The walls are the cave are mostly of this rock structure
known as Boxwork

We went on the Natural Entrance guided tour that lasted about an hour on which the ranger gave an excellent narration.  The path ways were all paved and lighted, with about 300 steps down and just the right amount of excitement.  There are four different cave tours from easy to extreme, this was about a moderate one.  Most people come here for a day, do a cave tour, take a ride looking for the Bison and the Prairie Dogs and leave. 

Wind Cave National Park is also a beautiful open grass prairie with Bison, Elk, Deer, Pronghorns and many Prarrie Dogs with several hiking trails. 

This was a beautiful Bison, many of them look a bit mangy

The Pronghorn are everywhere here, fastest animal on Earth

A herd of Elk at dusk

We took a ride back to the town of Custer which is an old town with most of it’s early buildings remaining and converted into restaurants, saloons, coffee shops, assorted tourist shops and an excessive number of tacky Sturges biker tee shirts shops.  Overall we thought Custer was attractive and not too awful touristy.  We ate lunch on the upstairs patio at the Buglin’ Bull Sports Bar which was very nice.

Many Bison art works in town

Beautiful old Bank converted into a coffee shop

Downtown storefronts

Downtown view

Pringle is the closest town to Wind Cave heading north on route 385, population 112 as of the 2010 census, but it has several photogenic sights.

Your typical hard core wannabe biker bar

The charcoal oven is real

Bicycle sculpture next to the Mickelson bike and hiking trail

Hot Springs is the next closest town to Wind Cave on route 385.  It was a place we had heard nothing about that was a gem.  It is the site of the Evans Plunge Hot Springs which have been an attraction for many years.  The Sioux and the Cheyenne Indian tribes fought a battle for possession of the Hot Springs at one time prior to the arrival of the white man.  In 1890 the Evans Plunge facility was built over these mineral springs and it remains today.  This town became a resort area in the late 1800’s as a result and many huge ornate building were constructed out of local red sandstone.  These buildings still remain and the downtown is beautiful.  There is an old jail, built in 1885, on display on Main Street that was found and saved inside a house that was being demolished, really cool !  Calamity Jane is reported to have spent a night in the jail after a drinking spree in town.  Hot Springs also was a railroad town with a Depot built in 1891 that is now utilized as the town information center. 

Hot Springs entrance gate

The building facade is beautiful and I would like
to know the story behind the man's face

The original Train Depot

So much great sandstone architecture here

City Hall

The aptly named Hot Creek

The old jail made out of 2X4's

The County Court House

History lesson

Next stop is the Fort Robinson State Park in Crawford, Nebraska;
Twinkles and Slick

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