Wind Cave – the first cave national park in the world

Stef Zisovska
Cave Boxwork often call cratework when this large. Wind Cave

The United States is a country with a wide variety of caves that you can explore from inside and outside as well. One of them is the Wind Cave which is actually the first cave national park in the world, established in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt. Wind Cave is a remote park in South Dakota, close to the state’s famous Hot Springs. What’s interesting about the cave are the countless calcite formations called boxwork which cover 95% of the entire world boxwork discoveries. The immense cave system is considered to be the largest in the world with plenty o of possibility to discover the passages underground, as well as the large grass prairie above the ground. Wind Cave National Park is never found on the top 10 lists of parks in the States, but it’s definitely an extraordinary place that you would like to visit.

Calcite boxwork from Wind Cave, the southern Black Hills, western South Dakota, USA – Author: James St. John – CC-BY 2.0

One of the first human traces in the area were discovered to be from the indigenous tribe known under the name of Lakota. For them, the Wind Cave was a kind of a sanctuary and a sacred spot connected to the underworld and the becoming of the world. The winds that actually do come out from the “underworld” are explainable in a simple way and has to do with the change of the air pressure. It’s basically simple physics: when the air pressure is higher outside than inside then the air gets into the cave, but when it’s the other way around then the air gets out of the cave, creating an effect of the underground wind. Lakota people also believed that the Cave is breathing for real because of the small openings on the surface.

Black Hills – Author: Navin75 – CC BY-SA 2.0

Don’t think that Wind Cave is only amusing from the inside because you’ll be wrong. There is a rich life above the ground that will satisfy all your need for wildlife spotting. If you like to experience something more than caving on the same trip, then wait until you see the black-footed ferrets, bobcats, red foxes, minks, prairie dogs, pronghorn, and the coyotes ( let’s hope you see the last ones from a distance).

A Prairie Dog; part of the extensive colony located in Wind Cave National Park – Author: Mycatisnamedlunameowmeowmeow – CC BY-SA 4.0

The Wind Cave bison herd is another popular attraction in the park. The herd is one of the four free-roaming and genetically pure herds in North America. To see the immensity and the beauty of these majestic animals is an experience that you will never forget. It will help you understand how perfect nature is when the humans don’t get involved. If you want to make a bison watching tour, the other three free-roaming herds can be seen in Yellowstone, the Henry Mountains in Utah, and on Elk Island in Alberta, Canada.

Part of the Wind Cave bison herd – Author: Downshifter – CC BY-SA 3.0

Wind Cave National Park offers more than 30 miles of hiking trails where you can explore the area while waiting for your turn. The visits to the park are limited to only 40 people at a time, so make sure you be there first thing in the morning. If you are really interested to learn something more about Wind Cave, you can go to the park’s visitor’s center and check the three exhibition rooms.

Cave Frostwork and Popcorn-Wind Cave

If you don’t manage to do everything in one day, then you can stay overnight at Elk Mountain Campground that is only 1,25 miles from the park’s visitors center. There are 75 available campsites for tents and RVs, and it’s open year-round. If you are an adventurer, you won’t think twice about visiting this exquisite site and enjoy its natural beauties. Take advantage of the fact that not too many people visit the Wind Cave National Park in comparison to other national parks in the United States. Be unique and discover a corner of the country that nobody else would. Be creative, stay safe and good luck!

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