Some may call us naïve, but when we heard the title Wind Cave National Park, we pictured a large entryway leading into this cold, dark, and damp area. Within this vision, our cave had high vaulted ceilings, a cozy one-bedroom addition for a bear to hibernate, and a large number of decorative bats sleeping upside down. While a portion of this imagery was correct, a majority of our vision was very quickly proved incorrect.
Welcome To Wind Cave
Wind Cave National Park is full of stories and moments that are once in a lifetime. Some research helped us realize that the cave was not something you could explore on your own. While this cave is dark and cold, the majority of our imagination proved unfitting. In order to see the cave portion of the park, you must go through a guided tour. These tours can be found here. We choose to do the Garden of Eden Tour. It was quick for our limited time and was being offered during the time of our visit. Pro-tip: be sure to check ahead of time for which tours are being offered and when. There are sometimes limited options and a reservation is required. We didn’t want to be stuck to a specific time since we were driving on our road trip from Arizona to Michigan, and it is not always easy to predict exact times. There is also a risk of tours not being offered for reasons such as elevator maintenance or the conditions being too dangerous in the cave. Therefore, be sure to check for tour times and availability, so you don’t miss an opportunity to explore the cave.
The Complexity Of Wind Cave
The Garden of Eden Tour starts off by taking an elevator down into the cave. Before heading into the cave, you must walk through a turf mat to help decrease the chance of spreading germs into the cave. This is largely due to White Nose Syndrome (WNS), a disease killing millions of bats since introduced in 2006. If you are looking for any other information on WNS and how to avoid spreading the fungus while traveling, please check out this website. It has great information on exploring caves and habitats where bats can be exposed.
The tour is only one hour long,but gives a great introduction to the cave. You walk through the upper layer of the cave on a dimly lit trail. While it was chilly and had a few lower portions, the trail is very easy to walk through. As you can see, our ideas on how the cave was going to be is already extremely off. To add this this idea, the entry point for the cave is not what we imagined at all. Even after viewing online, we still imagined entry to the cave being rather large. However, the entry point is something you would almost miss if you were just walking by. Below you can see the only entry point into the underground system.
The Entry Of Wind Cave
This entry is blocked to the public for a couple reasons. The first reason is clearly for safety, and the second is because the entry point is actually a sacred area. While on our tour, we were able to hear a fascinating story from the history of the cave and surrounding area.
In summary, the story is about the Lakota Tribe emergence. The story starts before the spirits of the tribe were able to walk on Earth and were waiting for Earth to be prepared and ready. The spirits lived underground in Tunkan Tipi while they waited for Earth to be habitable. There were two spirits who lived on Earth, who convinced some of the other humans living underground to come to the surface, despite it being too soon. When the humans above ground begged to go back under, they were instead punished and turned into beasts, AKA bison. Once the Earth was ready for all humans to enter, they were told the bison would provide all things needed to survive. It is also believed that after the humans rose above ground from the cave, the entrance was shrunk and left as a reminder of where the humans came from. If you are interested in reading or learning about more stories originating from the park, click here.
King Of The Prairies
This story was amazing to listen to and left us feeling a sense of wonder and curiosity for the cave and animals wandering around the surface of the park. We soon made our way to the upper level of the cave and started to become introduced to many formations. Boxwork, popcorn, and frostwork were all thrown out during the start of the tour. Not the popcorn we love to eat at the movies, but the cave formation version. Popcorn looks much like you would think and is created from water leaks in the limestone walls.
Boxwork was really interesting to see and learn about as well. Wind Cave has some of the most abundant amounts of boxwork in the world. Boxwork is the honeycomb looking formation in the pictures. While it can be hard to distinguish the types of speleothems (structures formed in caves) from the photographs, the tour guide helped point out where each structure is located. Boxwork was really cool to see here at Wind Cave, due to its’ rarity throughout most caves in the world. It is formed through the buildup of calcite and then intersects to create a “box.”
The Fragile Boxwork Of Wind Cave
Along with popcorn and boxwork, frostwork formations can also be seen while touring the cave. The frostwork seemed to grow on top of the boxwork and looks like little flakes of snow. It is also growth of calcite and the formation may be related to evaporation, though still some questions on the origin.
Another Crazy Formation
There were drawings from the past and evidence from years and years of adapting. While on the tour, the guide had everyone take a moment for complete silence and darkness. We turned off all the lights and remained still and quiet. I had to grab Colin’s hand before we started because I was slightly scared to be in a moment like that alone. In that moment, a few things crossed through my mind. One, this is how a horror movie starts and what if the lights never come back on?! Two, never in my life will I be able to experience complete darkness again, so I better enjoy it while I’m here. I am not sure how it is possible, but the moment was so beautiful. It was amazing to experience both absolute silence and darkness, and something we will never forget from our adventure.
Wandering Through The Cave
After our tour we were able to grab a quick photograph with our flag. This happened at the end of the tour, right before getting back into the elevator. If you are looking for a family photograph or picture of yourself before leaving and while still underground, this is your moment. Our guide asked everyone if they wanted a picture, so be sure to take advantage.
FIRE UP CHIPS!
Above the cave there are trails and spots to explore. We were able to see some buffalo and drive through, however as we were limited on time, we didn’t make any additional stops while there. Still, we thoroughly enjoyed this park, tour and history at Wind Cave National Park.