south dakota: custer, wind cave national park, & rapid city

On our way to Wind Cave National Park, we stopped in the cute town of Custer, South Dakota to visit with the colorful bison on the streets.  We figured this might be the closest we would get to bison on our trip.


Bison in Custer, South Dakota


Bison in Custer, South Dakota


Bison in Custer, South Dakota


Bison in Custer, South Dakota


Bison in Custer, South Dakota

We went from Custer to Wind Cave National Park. Protected since 1903, when it became our 7th national park, it is regarded as sacred by most American Indians.  The cave was found by settlers in 1881, when brothers Jesse and Tom Bingham heard a loud whistling noise.  They followed the sound to a small hole in the ground which is the cave’s only natural opening. The wind is created by differences between atmospheric pressure inside and outside the cave.  This wind can still be noticed at the cave entrance.


The natural opening to Wind Cave

Changing weather patterns bring changes in the outside atmospheric pressure. When the outside cave pressure increases, air flows into the cave. When outside air pressure drops, air flows out of the cave. The cave “breathes” until inside and outside air pressures are equal.

Later, adventurer Alvin McDonald followed the wind and discovered the cave’s extensive network of passageways. For three years, Alvin explored Wind Cave and found around 8-10 miles of passages. 

In the fall of 1893, Alvin joined his father in Chicago at the World’s Columbian Exposition.  Tragically, he caught typhoid fever there and died at the cave on December 15, 1893.  Without Alvin’s leadership, exploration tapered off, not to resume for seven decades.


Alvin McDonald

One of the most prominent and unique features of Wind Cave is its boxwork.  No other cave has remotely the amount of boxwork as does this cave. These thin, honeycomb-shaped structures of calcite protrude from the walls and ceilings, often covering the visible surfaces.  Although Wind Cave has few stalactites and stalagmites, many unusual formations and a variety of minerals are found in the cave. 

Other formations include popcorn, frostwork formations, and other delicate, irreplaceable features.

The presence of fossilized marine organisms such as coral in the Pahasapa Limestone provide evidence of the marine origins of the rock within which the cave formed.


Fossilized Coral

When the cave formed, it intersected and exposed small crystal-lined pockets in the limestone called geodes. These were originally small blobs of gypsum deposited with the limestone and later dissolved away by underground water.  Calcite deposited in the cavities formed sharp crystals called Dogtooth Spar.


Geode with Dogtooth Spar Interior

Where tiny amounts of water seep uniformly into the cave, deposits form small knobs of calcium carbonate that resemble popcorn.  Popcorn is very common in Wind Cave and often grows on the edges of boxwork. 


Cave Popcorn

It is estimated that only 5% of of the total cave has been discovered.  In 1891, Alvin McDonald wrote in a diary of his cave trips: “Have given up the idea of finding the end of Wind Cave.”  Better equipped cavers of today continue to push farther into the cave’s black recesses.

We were unable to go into the cave because by the time we arrived, all tours had ended for the day.

Below is a chart showing the differences between Jewel Cave and Wind Cave, as well as my cancellation stamp for Wind Cave National Park. I wrote about my visit to Jewel Cave here: south dakota: mount rushmore & jewel cave national monument.

After going through the wildlife loop at Custer State Park one more time, hoping yet failing to see the bison herd up close and personal, we returned to Rapid City, where we stopped in Prairie Edge Trading Co. & Galleries; I got a pair of earrings just before they closed.  It was a very cool place, but there wasn’t enough time to browse.

The Plains Indian Gallery at Prairie Edge features Plains Indian art, crafts and culture.  The trading company has an extensive collection of jewelry, pottery, glassware, decorative boxes and frames, Pendleton blankets, star quilts, buffalo leather furniture, housewares, fountains, candles, exclusive note cards and sportswear.

The turn-of-the century craft center has rows of display cabinets filled with beads: Italian glass beads, Czech beads, Japanese beads, trade beads, vintage beads and contemporary beads. It also carries hides, furs, feathers, shells, teeth, claws, brass, trade cloth, botanicals, plus more unique crafts and supplies.

We had dinner at Jambonz Deaux 2, a Louisiana kitchen, where I had an oyster po’ boy and Mike had chicken gumbo.  Our waiter Cody by mistake brought 32-oz jars of beer; they were huge!  We left half behind. Some background music played that was not at all memorable. The restaurant had fuchsia-colored walls with a musical theme; instruments hung on the walls and over the copper-engraved bar. 

The next day, we would explore more of Rapid City and then leave South Dakota for Nebraska.

Steps: 20,429; 8.66 miles (12,500 steps were registered on my FitBit from our two-hour horseback ride).

*Saturday, September 21, 2019*