In the southwestern corner of South Dakota lies Wind Cave National Park, the first cave to be selected as a national park anywhere in the world. At 150 miles in length, Wind Cave is one of the longest and most intricate caves in the world. Wind Cave received its name due to the characteristic of airflow entering and exiting the cave. The entrances of Wind Cave “breathe” together. Scientists have observed this is due to the change in air pressure outside of the cave. One of the unique qualities of Wind Cave is the abundance of a cave formation known as boxwork. Boxwork is plentiful in the maze-like passageways of Wind Cave and rarely seen elsewhere in the world. Other cave formations decorating the walls and ceilings are frostwork, cave popcorn, and calcite rafts, to name a few more.

This cave formation is Boxwork, a unique characteristic of Wind Cave. Photo credit: http://www.thegreatestroadtrip.com/wind-cave-national-park

Six different cave tours attract visitors from all over and range from moderate to strenuous in difficulty. One of the specialty tours permits visitors to explore by candlelight, allowing them to feel like the early cavers who frequented Wind Cave in the late 1800s. Alvin F. Mcdonald is one of the first cave explorers who regularly visited the cave and recorded his findings. From 1890-1893 he discovered approximately 8-10 miles of the cave. Although the cave was established in 1903 by president Theodore Roosevelt, it is known that Wind Cave is significant to The Lakota Nation, dating back to pre-historic times.

Park Ranger guiding visitors on the Candlelight tour. Photo credit: Sheena Harper, NPS

Above the cave, the surface is home to many diverse plants and animals. Mixed prairie-grass and the Ponderosa Pine forest cover the landscape. Despite Wind Cave’s mere expanse of 33,847 acres, there is a large variety of wildlife present. The various animals that reside in these ecosystems are the bison, wild turkeys, coyotes, squirrels, and prairie dogs. Activities that visitors engage in are hiking trails, back-country camping, and observing wildlife.

Prairie Dogs. Photo credit: NPS

Over the history of Wind Cave’s exploration, scientists believe that only 5% of the cave has been discovered. With much left to the unknown, it’ll be a long time until the end of the cave is reached. Even young cave explorer Alvin McDonald was aware of that and became discouraged looking for the end of the cave. Geologists today have their work cut out for them with this complex multi-layered labyrinth. I feel so lucky to be able to experience a cave as unique as this!


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