Day 5: August 9, 2016
We had a lot planned for the fifth day of our road trip, so we got up, headed out early, grabbed some breakfast stuff and a picnic lunch at the grocery store, and made our way the few miles over to Wind Cave National Park.
We wound our way up to the top of the hill, headed into the Visitor’s Center, and purchased our tickets for The Fairgrounds Tour! The Fairgrounds Tour is the most strenuous of the regular tours, and to be honest, I was a little surprised that I got my mom to agree to it (I may have “forgotten” to tell her exactly how many stairs there are…). This 90 minute tour goes into both the upper and middle sections of the cave, and has 450 stairs along a 2/3 mile route. The hardest part is a stairway – of course leading up! – with 89 steps. At any rate, mom did fine… The tour guide walks really slow and there is a lot of stopping to look at different features of the cave. Sadly though, being so far underground meant my FitBit didn’t record my steps… So, now to the good part…
We headed down into the cave by elevator, 19 stories below the surface. The tour begins in the middle section of the cave, and we were greeted by intricate boxwork in a honeycomb pattern in the first areas of the tour. They don’t really know how boxwork forms, but one theory is that it is the result of intensely fractured limestone which gets filled in by calcite that is carried by groundwater. Over time, the remaining limestone gets washed away, leaving the calcite boxes. Boxwork is extremely fragile, so you aren’t allowed to touch it – the cave could literally break off in your hands.
During our tour, we then moved into the upper section of the cave, which looks quite a bit different than the middle section. There really isn’t much boxwork here – instead there is chert, which is like flint in that it is composed of silica, but it isn’t as grainy (but you don’t know that by touching, because remember, touching is not allowed…).
We also saw areas with lots of cave popcorn, which looks like fluffy puffs of popcorn – and is a more common feature of many caves. We were also treated to the Fairgrounds Room, where there are benches in front of the Frostwork Ledge. It gave us an up close and personal view of the frostwork in Wind Cave, which are crystal formations of calcium carbonate that are formed when water slowly seeps out of the walls of the cave and then evaporates. The frostwork is beautiful!
In the Fairgrounds Room, our tour guide turned off the lights, so we could experience the absolute pitch blackness of the cave. You can’t see a thing, and your eyes won’t get used to the darkness, because there is no light to pick up on. Imagine trying to explore the cave with only candlelight! The Fairgrounds Room was discovered in 1892, so explorers at that time really were making do with just a candle or a dim lantern.
The last portion of the cave tour is downhill once again, before ending back at the elevators for the ride back up!
Again on the surface, we went through the gift shop for postcards and my National Park Passport stamp.
I also took a short walk over to see the natural entrance to the cave, the one that was discovered by Tom and Jesse Bingham back in 1881. They have built a little rock wall around it, but otherwise it is basically the same as it was 135 years ago – a small hole in the ground, giving away nothing about the wonders that lie beneath.
We had to get on our way, as we still had plenty that we wanted to do with our day, but what a fantastic visit!
Have you been to Wind Cave – what did you think?
Costs and Fees: No charge to visit Wind Cave National Park. The Fairgrounds Tour is $12 per adult, and $6 for seniors. Photos are allowed in the cave, even with flash, but be courteous and make sure you aren’t using your flash in people’s eyes…