Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you. -- Carl Sandburg
There's only one rule that I know of, babies -- goddammit, you've got to be kind. -- Kurt Vonnegut

September 4, 2011

8/11 - The Black Hills and Wind Cave

Wind Cave Box Formations

Only natural opening to Wind Cave
About the diameter of a cowboy hat brim

In the morning, I went to the visitors center and met a young ranger with a box of dirt and animal tracks. She seemed very surprised that I, an adult, was interested in her display and to learn which animals made which tracks. I learned the pronghorns have very grooved hooves that amount to having cleats. It must help them run so very fast.

I signed up for the Fairground tour of the cave, the longest tour. Irritatingly, the annual pass I bought didn't cover the cost of the cave tour. It was 1.5 hours. It is an interesting and beautiful cave with unusual formations. Unlike Carlsbad Caverns, it is a dry cave and has no stalagmites. It has the “box” formations of calcite that invaded fissures in the limestone, hardened, then the limestone eroded away leaving the lacy calcite.  It has only a single natural opening to the ground so it acts as a huge barometer.  When a low pressure moves in, the cave blows air out the hole; when high pressure moves in, it sucks air into the hole to equalize the air pressure between the atmosphere and the cave.  Hence the name "Wind Cave."  They say the winds can be 60-70 mph at times.  No wonder the Native Americans consider it sacred and the original source of spirits.
Wind Cave NP - Junction between East and West -
Prairie and the Rockies

Bison on east side of Wind Cave NP

In the afternoon, I drove north on US87 to see the park. I saw a pronghorn in a valley but apparently, no one saw any bison that day. Lots and lots of prairie dogs which are the basic food animal to support the ecosystem all the way to the bison and pronghorns as well as the reintroduced black footed ferret. It is a beautiful park straddling the end of the Black Hills and the beginning of the prairie. It also has both the western species and eastern species of several animals.

At the northern border, I took a dirt road along the edge of the park until I got to the Centennial Trail head, which looked like a road. There was a man there in his car who said he was waiting for his brother to arrive on the trail. He said the dirt road on the east side of the park was well worth taking altho no one does and was a good road. So I pressed on. I saw elk and hawks, tons more prairie dogs, and finally some bison taking a dirt bath. The road was good and the landscape pretty but more grassland than trees. At the end of the park, there was a quarry and a dirt county road that I took to the west. Then down to Hot Springs where I found a little wi-fi to get my email, drove down a beautiful canyon to who knows where. I turned around when the road turned to dirt. As the day ended, I stopped by an RV park to find they wanted $30 so I returned to the Elk Mountain campground for the night.

Route: US385N – WY87N – FS5 E (dirt) – CR101W (dirt) -US385S to Hot Springs, SD
Red Valley - SE side of Wind Cave NP

Canyon north of Hot Springs, SD

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