Day 5: Wind Cave and Custer State Park (Ryan)

The weather finally broke during the morning and after lazing around for a few more hours we decided to hit the road and head down to the southern black hills area. The wind was pretty high, so we had to fight our way down to Rapid City on I-90. We turned south on Hwy 79 and road through Hot Springs up to the Wind Cave National Park. We had hoped to get on the 2:30 tour but we arrived at 2:35 and the tour had already left. We bummed around the ranger station for almost 2 hours until the next 4:30 tour was ready to go. The cave is billed as the worlds most complex, the tunnel network is rather chaotic on a map:

Cave map of Wind Cave

The cave is so complex that they are still exploring and finding new tunnels. The caves have a unique structure they called boxwork:

Boxwork deposits

Throughout the cave system they really don’t have stalactites or stalagmites other than a few that were about 6 inches long. Virtually all the structures were boxwork though a few areas were covered with a popcorn like substance or a more fuzzy mineral deposit.

Other deposits

The tour lasted around an hour and they kept you on this concrete walkway going through the cave. The tour ended a couple hundred feet underground. Which made me wonder, “how did they pour the concrete sidewalk down there?” The entire distance we walked was probably around a quarter mile or so. However there are around 98 miles of explored caverns but almost all of it fits within 1 square mile of surface area.

There is only one known very small natural entrance to the caves. This causes the caves to act like a barometer and the pressure difference causes wind to blow out or be sucked in. The legend was that the first white man to find the cave looked at the hole because he heard a whistling sound and then it blew the had off his head (late 1800s timeframe). Among the notable visitors from the early days mentioned on the wall plaques in the visitor center was Williams Jennings Bryan.

On our drive there I had an idea that I should collect stickers from places we go and decorate the gas tank on the motorcycle since the paint is already shot. So Wind cave had the honor of being the first. I got a retro 1930’s style park pass sticker and put it up near the gas cap.

After touring the caves it left us at the perfect time of day to ride up through Custer State Park. We couldn’t have picked a better weekend because they were having an “open house” so there were no admissions fees. The park came highly recommended from my friend, Josh, and it did not disappoint. There was a tremendous amount of wildlife throughout and the roads were well maintained, well marked, and quite interesting to drive. While the park may not be the most spectacular ever, it is quite a perfect combination of interesting landscape, wildlife and interesting roads. Just enough curves to make is just right.

The drive was really loaded with wildlife, especially buffalo (or properly Bison as we were instructed). At one point we came around a corner and there were at least around 100 head standing on either side of the road. The cars in front of us were stopped so we stopped and waited. As we did on buffalo in particular started staring at us and then stomping and snorting. I pulled forward and that seemed to make him think that I backed down from the fight. I had planned out an escape route though if that didn’t work. Us plus motorcycle and gear probably still only weighs half what he weighed so while I usually don’t like to back down…this seemed the better course of wisdom.

I took that to mean “don’t approach too close”

Stomping, Snorting, and looking to cause trouble

Other than that most of the day was uneventful, with the exception of the ride back during which it got really cold. Lots of pretty landscape and some very cool closeups with an animal that almost went extinct 100 years ago.

Don’t forget to check out our photobucket album if you’re interested in seeing lots of pictures without a lot of text to go with them.

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