Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave National Park is located in South Dakota in the United States, only ten miles away from the town of Hot Springs. The park holds 33,847 acres of cave system, and was the first national park of its kind. European explorers and Native Americans that traveled through the area knew that the cave was there, but there has been no existence of habitation found within the cave. Although the Lakota people spoke of a scared cave that produced wind, the first recorded discovery of the cave occurred in 1881, when Tom and Jesse Bingham heard wind coming from a small hole in the ground.

The first explorations of the cave occurred between the years of 1881 to 1889, but these were not extensive. It was not until 1889, when the South Dakota Mining Company gave Jesse D. McDonald the task of evaluating the caves resources that deep exploration could begin. After finding no evidence of valuable minerals or ores, the McDonald family began exploring the cave and eventually opened the area to tourism. The park was established in 1903 after President Theodore Roosevelt signed the appropriate bill.

Wind Cave was named for the sound of air that rushes out if its openings in particular conditions. The caves have been described as “breathing,” although they are not actually producing wind. Air is pushed into the cave when the atmospheric pressure in the cave is lower than that of the outside air. When air rushes through the cave, the pressure within rises over that of the outside pressure, the air is pushed through at a greater rate, creating the noise that the caves were named for.

The area of Wind Cave in Wind Cave National Park supports a variety of wildlife including bison, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets. The bison herd in the area, known as the Wind Cave bison herd, is one of four free-roaming herds in North America. Inside the cave, visitors can view calcite formations known as boxwork comprising ninety-five percent of the world’s boxwork.  The park is easily assessable by road and offer visitors nearly thirty miles of hiking trails. Camping is permitted within the park at Elk Mountain Campground, which is open throughout the year, and visitors can view nature exhibits at the Wind Cave Visitor Center.

Image Caption: A United States National Park ranger stands in front of the natural entrance to Wind Cave in Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. Credit: Stripey the crab/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)