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West 2016: Wind Cave NP

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.

Me posing with the Entrance Sign

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.

Boxwork on the ceiling of Wind Cave

 

A closeup of the Boxwork

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!

Cave Popcorn

 

A closeup of the cave popcorn, with frostwork

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.

The natural entrance to Wind Cave

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…

Wind Cave NP History

There are very few cave systems managed by the National Park Service, and Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota enjoys bragging rights as not only the first cave to be designated as a National Park within the United States, but it is also the first in the entire world!

Me posing with the Entrance Sign

Wind Cave has been known for centuries by the Native Americans, especially the Lakota, who consider it a sacred place. The Lakota believe that the cave’s entrance is the site where their people first emerged from the underworld after the creation of the world.

Despite its being known, it is not believed that any humans entered the cave until after 1881 when Tom and Jesse Bingham first noticed the wind rushing out of the entrance of the cave – it was forceful enough to blow the hat off of Tom’s head when he peered into the hole.  The wind blowing out of Wind Cave is a result of the large cave system combined with the small entrance opening; as the air pressure seeks to equalize both inside and outside of the cave, air blows either into or out of the cave, depending on the air pressure outside.

The natural entrance to Wind Cave

After Tom and Jesse “discovered” the cave, the South Dakota Mining Company did some exploring to determine whether there was valuable ore at the site (there wasn’t), and hired Jesse McDonald to oversee their claim.  It was Jesse’s family that was instrumental in the development of the cave as a tourist attraction.  His son Alvin began entering the cave with a candle and a long spool of string, and mapping out the many paths and caverns in the cave.  The family started offering tours for $1 (that’s a lot of money at the turn of the last century!), which involved quite a bit of crawling through small passages.  But even back in the day, people got greedy, and a dispute over cave profits led to court, and the government ruled that no one had an ownership claim in the cave and withdrew the land from homesteading.

Further cave exploration in the 1960s led to much of the knowledge we have about Wind Cave today.  Currently 123.09 miles (according to the NPS’s Wind Cave website) of the cave system have been explored, with a few miles more being explored each year.  It is the sixth longest cave system in the world.  There are several large rooms within the cave, as well as tiny passageways that are much too small for a person to fit through.  The cave has six known lakes, about 500 feet beneath the surface.  There is a belief among scholars that the Wind Cave network actually connects with the network of passages in Jewel Cave nearby, and that the two cave systems are actually one, even larger cave.  However, to date, there has not been confirmation of this theory, although it makes sense because both caves are known to be very large, and the two are only about 5 surface miles apart.

Wind Cave is known for its boxwork and frostwork. Boxwork is made of thin blades of calcite that project from cave walls and ceilings, forming a honeycomb pattern. They intersect one another at various angles, forming “boxes” on all cave surfaces.  Approximately 95% of the boxwork in the world’s known caves is in Wind Cave.  Frostwork is intricate, needle-like growths on the cave – it is unknown how it forms, but evaporation is thought to play a role since it occurs in areas of Wind Cave where there is more air movement.

Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation creating Wind Cave National Park on January 9, 1903. Currently Wind Cave National Park has 33,851 acres, with bison, pronghorn, coyotes, deer, elk, prairie dogs, and the endangered black-footed ferret (which were reintroduced to the park in 2007).

The above-ground view at Wind Cave

My mom and I visited Wind Cave National Park in August 2016, and toured the cave while we were there.  I will post about it next!

Toilets of Yesteryear…

Apparently my readers are all as strange as I am, and are clamoring for a post on the historic toilets of the United States.  Or, at least the ones I have come across in my travels.  So…  Without further ado… Don’t try to pretend later that you didn’t ask for it…  Weirdos… 🙂

Alcatraz has a few different kinds of historic toilets.  The general population toilet…

One of the General Population Cells at Alcatraz - 5 Feet by 9 Feet

One of the General Population Cells at Alcatraz – 5 Feet by 9 Feet

 

And a slightly more recognizable toilet – in the cell where John Anglin managed to dig out of Alcatraz in 1962.  Perhaps he made sure to go potty one last time before he escaped, never to be heard from again…

The Cell that John Anglin Dug Out of in 1962. He Made it Off the Island, But Was Never Heard From Again, and Presumed Drowned.

The Cell that John Anglin Dug Out of in 1962. He Made it Off the Island, But Was Never Heard From Again, and Presumed Drowned.

 

This prison toilet at the Old Idaho Penitentiary was slightly less fancy than the toilets at Alcatraz…  I wonder if pooping in a bucket helped the recidivism rates.

See that panel in the wall there? That's where prisoners got to keep their shared bucket. Yep - you got to poop in a bucket, and you probably had to empty it out and wash it yourself. Imagine the aroma on a 90+ degree day...

See that panel in the wall there? That’s where prisoners got to keep their shared bucket. Yep – you got to poop in a bucket, and you probably had to empty it out and wash it yourself. Imagine the aroma on a 90+ degree day…

I visited Fort Vancouver with my mom and my cousin and checked out this historic double outhouse (although it is a replica).  Posing optional…

My cousin and I roleplaying in the double outhouse at Fort Vancouver. This one is a replica though

My cousin and I roleplaying in the double outhouse at Fort Vancouver. This one is a replica though

This privy at George Washington’s Mount Vernon is probably original, given that it looks like they are trying to restore it.  That’s my story and I am sticking to it.

A historic privy at Mount Vernon. Sadly, the privy is not discussed in the guidebook, so I can't tell you when it was built, or if it is original.

A historic privy at Mount Vernon. Sadly, the privy is not discussed in the guidebook, so I can’t tell you when it was built, or if it is original.

 

This outhouse at the Wilmer McLean House at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park is almost certainly a replica, but it sure looks the part.

Wilmer McLean's Outhouse

Wilmer McLean’s Outhouse

 

This historic outhouse was discovered in the ghost town of St. Elmo, Colorado.  It looks a little rickety – step on in and try it out!

An old outhouse in St. Elmo

An old outhouse in St. Elmo

 

While this toilet is not historic, it made the blog purely for its “technological advancements.”  Given that it is located in the ladies room at the Dark Horse Brewery in Marshall, Michigan, it seemed worth a mention.

I have no idea what “features” this toilet offers

I have no idea what “features” this toilet offers

 

This toilet at the George Washington Birthplace National Monument isn’t historic either, but I felt I had to include it for the unique foot pedal flush!

 

George Washington Birthplace Toilet

George Washington Birthplace Toilet

 

And although this isn’t a toilet, this bathtub is truly the most historic one I have ever seen.  Discovered at Pompeii.

A Pompeiian bathtub - these folks were shorter than me!

A Pompeiian bathtub – these folks were shorter than me!

 

And of course, those of you who couldn’t wait for the historic toilets post will remember these recent photos from my West trip…

The Prairie Homestead’s double holed outhouse…

I met a new friend in the Prairie Homestead's double outhouse...

I met a new friend in the Prairie Homestead’s double outhouse…

And a genuine nuclear missile Launch Control Center toilet.

A genuine historic toilet! Unavailable for posing on...

A genuine historic toilet! Unavailable for posing on…

 

That’s it for now folks.  I am sure I have more historic toilets in my photo files, so when I come across some more, I will be sure to post another round.  Maybe Toilets of Yesteryear will become a series!

West 2016: Missiles and Sod…

Day 4: August 8, 2016

We began our day with a trip to the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in Philip, South Dakota. It was on the way to Badlands National Park, which was our ultimate destination for the day.

We didn’t actually tour the Launch Control Center, as that is a few miles down the road and we didn’t have time with our busy agenda for the day.  There are a limited number of spaces on tours each day, for a small per person fee.  The Launch Control Center was active between the 1960s and the mid-1990s, when most of the nuclear missiles were deactivated.  The United States during the peak of the Cold War had about 1,000 active nuclear missiles, and each control center controlled 10 missiles.  So, you can do the math – this was not the only control center.

The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

Even without going on the tour though, the Visitor’s Center was well worth the stop. Exhibits covered the length of the history of nuclear armament, from the dropping of the first atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Cold War, the tense periods with Cuba and Russia, and the eventual agreements to move toward disarming nuclear weapons around the world. Several years ago, I toured the Titan Missile Site in Sahuarita, AZ, near Tucson, so I was able to translate that experience without seeing this silo site.

When I toured the Titan site in AZ, I was amazed by the technology that existed in the construction of the silo. On my tour there, a volunteer was asked to try to open a blast door that weighed several tons. It was so well balanced and constructed that it moved very easily on its bearings.

The Minuteman Missile Visitor’s Center had a piece of the Berlin Wall that visitors could touch.

Mom, with a piece of the Berlin Wall

Mom, with a piece of the Berlin Wall

They also had a genuine missile silo toilet – a historic toilet for my collection! You know I had to get a photo of that!  Sadly it was damaged (probably by other historic toilet photo collectors) so I didn’t get to pose properly for the photo.  This one will have to do…

 

A genuine historic toilet! Unavailable for posing on...

A genuine historic toilet! Unavailable for posing on…

After the Minuteman site, we went just down the road to the Prairie Homestead – a South Dakota State Historic Site. There were two draws to the site – the first was the sod house, built in 1909 by the Ed Brown family. The home also had a later wooden addition; another home that was moved from its original location, and which doubled the size of the original house. It would be difficult to live in sod, which had bugs who would move through it and drop into the home (yuck), as well as the fact that sod walls make for a damp environment and tend to sag over time.

The Brown family sod house - the sod portion on the left was built in 1909

The Brown family sod house – the sod portion on the left was built in 1909

 

The bedroom in the sod house, showing the sod walls.

The bedroom in the sod house, showing the sod walls.

There were also several outbuildings on the site, including an outhouse, but I’m not sure if the outhouse was original or reconstructed. That didn’t stop me from getting photos of the historic toilet and its perpetual guest. There is a root cellar, and an old well.  The barn has animals, including chickens and goats, which I’m sure would keep the kids busy and entertained if for some crazy reason they got bored watching the more famous four legged residents.

I met a new friend in the Prairie Homestead's double outhouse...

I met a new friend in the Prairie Homestead’s double outhouse…

The other big draw of the Prairie Homestead is that they have white prairie dogs! Staff indicated that these prairie dogs are a separate species, but they aren’t.  They are actually leucistic black-tailed prairie dogs, meaning they don’t have the pigment in their skin, but do have pigmented eyes, so they aren’t albino.  Many species of animals have leucistic individuals, including other mammals (white lions and tigers), reptiles and birds.  These prairie dogs were certainly lighter in color than others that we saw during our trip, and they didn’t have the typical black-tipped tail of other members of their species. The fact that these prairie dogs interbred among themselves causes the genetic mutation to continue.

These guys are so cute!

These guys are so cute!

I loved watching them, and took lots of photos of them popping out of their burrows.  They are so adorably cute!

Which way do we look?

Which way do we look?

 

A White Prairie Dog (otherwise known as a leucistic Black-tailed Prairie Dog)

A White Prairie Dog (otherwise known as a leucistic Black-tailed Prairie Dog)

These white prairie dogs were moved to the site in partnership with the Oglala Sioux tribe, but if you aren’t interested in seeing the sod house, you can see the white prairie dogs for free just down the road from the gas station.

Look! Three of them in one photo - triple the cuteness!

Look! Three of them in one photo – triple the cuteness!

By the time we left the Prairie Homestead it was lunchtime, but we had so much left to do in our day!

West 2016: Deadwood – Mines and Museums

Day 3: August 7, 2016

After our busy morning in Deadwood, our next stop was the Broken Boot Gold Mine; it was named for the old, falling apart boot that was found in the mine as the current owners were getting it ready for tours.  For $12 ($5 for the tour and $7 to pan for gold), we took a tour of a now defunct gold mine.  Our guide was a chipper high school student, working through the summer for his family’s business.  He was upbeat and fun, and although he mostly stuck to his script, he explained the inner workings of the gold mine.  This particular gold mine didn’t make that much money, but it was an interesting tour.  He showed us the equipment that the miners used, and explained that they had to purchase it themselves.  We also got to experience the pitch black of absolute darkness in the mine, as well as the VERY dim light of the candle that the miners worked with.  The conditions would have been difficult.

The entrance of the Broken Boot Mine

The entrance of the Broken Boot Mine

 

The inside of the Broken Boot Gold Mine

The inside of the Broken Boot Gold Mine

At the end, if you chose to add it onto your tour, you got to try your hand at panning for gold.  Of course, they seed the dirt and rocks with some gold, so it was a “miracle” that both my mom and I found some!  Our guide was great about showing us the technique, although I think my mom did much better at it than I did (she has done this before).  We both had a lot of fun with it though!

Mom panning for gold. She makes it look effortless...

Mom panning for gold. She makes it look effortless…

 

Me? Not so effortless...

Me? Not so effortless…

After the Broken Boot mine tour, we checked out the Days of ’76 Museum.  That’s 1876 in case you were wondering.  The entire focus of the museum is to celebrate 1876, the year that Deadwood was first established after the gold rush began, as well as the Days of ’76 festival, an annual celebration.  The Days of ’76 has a rodeo, a parade, and lots of people in costume.  The celebration began in 1924, so it has over 90 years of history!  The museum has exhibits with photos and historic saddles and costumes from the festival and rodeo.  They even have a whole floor of historic carriages from days gone by, as well as other forms of transportation, including a horse drawn hearse and a beer wagon.  Strangely, there was no wine wagon…  Who wouldn’t want to have a wine wagon?!  But they did have an exhibit showing a historic saloon.

A milk wagon at the Days of '76 Museum.

A milk wagon at the Days of ’76 Museum.

 

Me in the Stagecoach at the Days of '76 Museum.

Me in the Stagecoach at the Days of ’76 Museum.

We had gone to the Visitor’s Center to get some information at the beginning of the day and they had a passport card where you could get stamps at various places (the bus tour, the Adams Museum, The Days of ’76 Museum, the Broken Boot Mine, the Trolley, etc.).  We ended up being one stamp short for the day to get the prize, but the woman took pity on us.  I think she was secretly impressed that we managed to make the most of our day…  Either that, or she just didn’t care…  But either way it worked out well for us because, we each got to  redeem our passports and we both chose the historic photo playing cards…  Yes, in case you are wondering, I am a complete and total nerd.  So?

There's gold in them thar hills!

There’s gold in them thar hills!

We left Deadwood and made our way to our home for the next three nights; the Mystic Valley Inn in Custer, South Dakota.  Along the way we got caught in a huge rainstorm which sent bikers trying to find places to shelter along the side of the highway.  They looked pretty miserable standing out there in the rain; it made me pretty happy for our wonderful, yet dented to hell, car.  The rain had cleared along the way though, and when we got to our motel, it had stopped.  We got checked in to the cute 40’s/50’s roadside motel with a nice arbor and outside seating area, and then ventured out again to find dinner…

The Buglin’ Bull Bar and Grill in Custer, South Dakota looked intriguing, so we got a table and ordered our meals.  I had the beer sampler (The Wapiti Wheat, the 1874 Black Hills Gold (an Amber), the Armstrong Ale (an ESB), and the Custer Nut Brown Ale) – they were all good, but less complex than the Washington beers I have gotten used to.  For dinner I had the Pheasant Flatbread with kalamata olives, peperoncinis, feta cheese and tomato.  The pheasant tasted like chicken, but more oily and gamey.  It was delicious!

My beer sampler at the Buglin' Bull

My beer sampler at the Buglin’ Bull

 

Pheasant Flatbread at the Buglin' Bull

Pheasant Flatbread at the Buglin’ Bull

We ended the evening relaxing in our room, watching a bit of TV, journaling and reading.  The perfect end to a great day!

 

Distance for the Day: Belle Fourche, SD – Deadwood, SD – Custer, SD (1 hr, 49 min, 84 miles)
H
otel for the night: Mystic Valley Inn – Custer, SD

West 2016: Deadwood – Wild Bill and Bikers!

Day 3: August 7, 2016

Our destination for the third day of our trip was Deadwood, South Dakota, famous for its origins as a Gold Rush town.  Gold and silver were found here in 1874 and triggered the beginning of the Black Hills Gold Rush.  George Armstrong Custer was responsible for making the announcement that brought tens of thousands of eager miners to the area, completely unconcerned about violating the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, which had given ownership of the Black Hills to the Lakota people.  But white men wanted money, so who cares about the government’s silly little commitment to the Native Americans who called this land home…  Despite the land dispute reaching the United States Supreme Court, the Lakota were not successful at preventing the encroachment of the miners on their land.

Our tour bus for the morning - riding in style...

Our tour bus for the morning – riding in style…

Deadwood is also well known as the town where Wild Bill Hickok lived and met his untimely end by a bullet in the head, while he was sitting in a chair playing poker in the #10 saloon.  He was 39 years old.  Wild Bill Hickok was known for being an outlaw as well as a lawman over his relatively short life.  Less well known is that he also worked as a teamster and a scout during the Civil War and it is rumored that he was a Union spy in Confederate territory.  But my personal favorite tidbit about him was that he was mauled by a bear and lived!

A sign marking the saloon where Wild Bill Hickok was shot

A sign marking the saloon where Wild Bill Hickok was shot

The first order of business for our day in Deadwood was a bus tour of town, by Boothill Tours.  My mom and I were joined by about 10 people who were around for the Sturgis Rally; we were the only ones who weren’t.  Our guide told us stories of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, and attempted to separate the myth from the likely truth.  Hickok was married to an older woman, and beyond being in Deadwood at the same time as the much younger Calamity Jane, they were unlikely to have been in a relationship together.  Our tour took us around town, showing us the historic buildings of town, pointing out the Adams House Museum from the outside, Mount Moriah cemetery, and a home whose roof was made from large can lids.  We all got out of the bus at Mount Moriah Cemetery to hear additional stories about Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, to see their graves, and to view the town below from the cemetery’s vantage point above the hill.

Wild Bill Hickok's grave in Mount Moriah Cemetery, overlooking town

Wild Bill Hickok’s grave in Mount Moriah Cemetery, overlooking town

Our tour guide was fantastic, telling us the history of the town and its residents, explaining the disasters that have befallen Deadwood over the years.  It has suffered floods and multiple fires, and has had to reinvent itself over the years, after the gold rush ended, and it became just one more dying town…  After our bus tour, it was mid-morning, and Deadwood was really starting to fill up with Sturgis bikers who were out touristing.  The town was packed with bikers and bikes!

The main street of Deadwood - before all the bikers started arriving...

The main street of Deadwood – before all the bikers started arriving…

We toured the Adams Historical Museum and checked out the exhibits; it was an interesting hodge podge of stuff!  The museum had an antique narrow gauge steam engine, a collection of small carved wood statues of nudists, comprising an entire wooden nudist colony, Wild Bill Hickok paraphernalia, an exhibit detailing the prostitution industry, and an exhibit with all sorts of opium den artifacts.  They also displayed Potato Creek Johnny’s famous gold nugget (another cast member of local color in Deadwood), dinosaur fossils, and a very nice N.C. Wyeth drawing of Wild Bill Hickok.  They even had a two headed calf!  I enjoyed the museum, which is housed in a historic building downtown.

 

The Adams Museum

The Adams Museum

A whole carved wooden nudist colony! But where are all the men?

A whole carved wooden nudist colony! But where are all the men?

 

A two headed calf; this one lived six weeks.

A two headed calf; this one lived six weeks.

After the Adams Museum, we went to lunch at the Tin Lizzie, a buffet restaurant inside a casino.  It was fine but certainly nothing special.

We wandered along Main Street, heading into Saloon #10, where Wild Bill Hickok was murdered by Jack McCall, the day after beating McCall out of a large sum of money in poker. McCall rode away after the shooting, but fell off his horse and was caught a few blocks away.  We poked around in a few shops and checked out motorcycles of all sizes, shapes and colors.  As well as bikers of all sizes, shapes and colors…  I don’t think I have ever seen so many bikers; there had to be thousands there in town – cruising the streets, sitting at restaurants and bars, walking along the sidewalks like we were – and we weren’t even in Sturgis!

Deadwood after it began to fill up with bikers!

Deadwood after it began to fill up with bikers!

We had already seen so much, and our day in Deadwood was only half over!

 

 

The White Dove

In the past I have blogged about the grave of Sergeant Tuttle at Andersonville National Cemetery, site of the Civil War Confederate POW camp. I was reminded of it a few weeks ago in a conversation with a friend, and want to share it again here.

 

Tuttle’s grave is significant at Andersonville, for his gravestone is adorned with a white stone dove. It is the only grave in the cemetery that contains more than the simple, uniform marble markers that are placed at each burial. It is a mystery who placed the dove there, and nobody knows when, but it is clear that someone dearly loved this man.

 

Since I learned about it several years ago, it has always struck me as a timeless story of deep and enduring love. Someone so devoted to a kind and generous man; the kind of love that we all aspire to achieve. I know nothing of the man Tuttle was, but I imagine him to be selfless and kind, generous in heart and spirit, humble and loving. In my mind, he was a man who was deserving of someone’s undying love.

 

I hope you all, dear readers, give and receive that kind of love. The world would be a better place if we all lived with that in mind.