Somewhere in the Black Hills of South Dakota,,,

Trip Start May 06, 2010
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28
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Trip End Oct 14, 2010


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Flag of United States  , South Dakota
Monday, June 7, 2010

I checked out of my hotel and headed for Wind Cave National Park.  Wind Cave became the eighth National Park in 1903, the first cave anywhere in the world to become a national park.  It is now the 4th longest cave in the world with 133 miles of explored passageways.  The lengths are revised upward as more passageways are discovered and mapped.  The volume of a cave can be estimated based on  the amount of air going in or out of the cave when the barometric pressure changes.  Using this method they estimate that only 3 percent of Jewel Cave, which I visited yesterday and is the second longest cave with 150 miles of passages, has been discovered and only 5 percent of Wind Cave has been discovered. 

Much of the cave was initially explored by a person in the family who owned the cave in the late 1800's.  That person was a kid of 16 when he first started exploring the cave.  His equipment was candles and balls of twine to find his way out.  He thought he had mapped around 90 mile of passageways when he died of typhoid at the age of 20.  Later explorers thought he was exaggerating and only gave him credit for finding about 10 miles but as late as last year they found his initials made from candle smoke on a newly re-discovered passageway.  In 1964 the explored length of the cave by other than the kid was still around 10 miles but the Conn's, the same couple that explored Jewel Cave, found an opening that lead to 70 more miles of cave.

Wind Cave is known for its boxwork formations.  It has around 95% of the boxwork formations known to exist.  It has a few of the calcite crystals seen in Jewel Cave and some other decorations but boxwork is by far the most common.  Boxwork is created when calcite seeps into and fills the cracks in limestone that has been fractured.  When water dissolves the limestone the calcite left behind is boxwork.

Unlike Mammoth Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument, you cannot make reservations ahead of time; tickets are sold on a first-come, first-served basis.  There were two cave tours available today.  I took both of them.  The first was the 1 1/4 hour Natural Entrance Tour, which is actually a misnomer since the natural entrance is very small and we entered through an artificial entrance nearby.  The second was the 1 1/2 hour Fairgrounds Tour.  Each tour covers about 1/2 mile horizontally, with some overlap between them.  That's a pretty small percentage of  the 133 miles of cave.  The tour routes, elevators and buildings were all CCC projects so when they were built they covered a much larger percentage of the known cave. 

Wind Cave is an extremely complex cave.  The 133 miles of passageways are all under approximately one square mile.  As you walk through the cave there are holes and cracks going off from the tour route every few feet.  When the maps are viewed from above there are 12 roughly parallel fissures.  There's no discernable pattern in the passageways perpendicular to these.  There are eight levels of passageways. 

The park also includes 28,000 acres above ground.  Most of this is mixed-grass prairie, When the park was formed the buffalo, elk and pronghorn had already been wiped out but they were re-introduced in 1911.  At first they were kept corralled but later the corrals were removed and the animals are now free to roam the park.  The weather wasn't very good so I didn't do any hiking.  I drove to Kadoka and checked into a motel.  Tomorrow I'm going to visit Badlands National Park.
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