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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!

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See

Anthony Doerr knocks it out of the park with this novel, set during World War II.  It is a NY Times bestseller, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr (photo from Amazon.com)

Marie-Laure, is a blind girl living with her father in Paris; he works for the Museum of Natural History as its master locksmith.  He also has a talent for woodworking, and makes her a scale model of her neighborhood in Paris to assist her in learning how to navigate the streets without sight.  Soon enough however, the two must evacuate to Saint-Malo, a seaside walled city, to live with her eccentric great-uncle Etienne, his long-time housekeeper, and her father.

Meanwhile, Werner is an orphan growing up in Germany with a talent for building and repairing radios.  His skill is noticed by the Nazis, and he is sent to an elite school to hone his craft for the war effort.  This means he must leave his younger sister, Jutta, who has her own talent – she sees even at her very young age the evil that resides within the Nazi party.

Throughout the novel, the stories are intricately woven together, culminating with Marie-Laure and Werner meeting during the German occupation of France.  He lays bare all the cruelty and tragedy of the war, as well as the bravery that was exhibited by so many during the period.

Doerr’s character development is superb, and you can’t help but love some of them and hate others.  Despite your feelings for them, you see that they are all flawed beings, with their strengths and weaknesses.  I was entranced from beginning to end.

Book Review: The Swan Thieves

The Swan Thieves, by Elizabeth Kostova

A man walks into The National Gallery in Washington, D.C. and tries to attack a painting with a knife. Fortunately, Robert Oliver is restrained before doing any damage to the painting, and ends up being involuntarily committed for mental illness.

His psychiatrist, Dr. Andrew Marlow, begins to treat Oliver and in doing so, embarks on a journey to solve the mystery of the beautiful old-fashioned woman whom Oliver is obsessed with painting. His journey takes him to Oliver’s former wife and former lover, as well as halfway around the world. What he uncovers is a tragic love story; while along the way he finds a love of his own.

The Swan Thieves was written by the same woman that wrote The Historian (I recommend it highly), and Kostova weaves an intricate tale of love and relationships, and the nuances of the human mind. Her character development is superb, with each character possessing their own strengths and flaws; their own triumphs and tragedies.

I was captivated from beginning to end, trying to anticipate what was around the next corner, hating to put the book down to go back to the real world. The conclusion leaves questions, and just like life, things don’t always get wrapped up neatly. As is always the case with true love, the story will stay with you long after the end.

Note: I listened to the audiobook version, which was wonderfully narrated by different voices.

Free Ice Water at Wall Drug!

Day 4: August 8, 2016

Is there such a thing as a trip to the Badlands without a stop at Wall Drug? This iconic store, originally a pharmacy, has become an American legend, due to the road signs that line I-90 for miles in both directions. Additionally, they give away free bumper stickers and people erect signs in far off places announcing how many miles it is to Wall Drug.  These marketing strategies have absolutely aided in their success.

Wall Drug was opened by Ted Hustead and his wife in 1931; they were looking for a small town with a Catholic church where they could establish their pharmacy business. Wall is currently in the “middle of nowhere,” and I can only imagine that it was even more remote over 85 years ago. His wife Dorothy deserves the credit for its ultimate success. Mount Rushmore had just opened, and she had the idea to offer free ice water to tourists traveling west to see it during the hot, dry summer. The idea brought lots of people in and the store took off!

The Famous Wall Drug Store

Wall Drug is basically a shopping mall where you can buy all sorts of kitschy souvenirs, including a mounted “jackalope,” which is a jackrabbit with antlers.  I have no idea how this thing ever took off, but I guess I need to remember that we have a long history of venerating mythical creatures, and why not – it is fun!  Apparently in Douglas, WY, where the first taxidermy jackalope was created in 1932, they have an “official” jackalope hunting season, which occurs for only one day.  In case you are interested in bagging your own jackalope, the season occurs each year on June 31 (a nonexistent date as June has 30 days), from midnight to 2 a.m. The hunter must have an IQ greater than 50 but not over 72.  Permits are available from the Douglas, WY Chamber of Commerce.  I think that would be pretty awesome to get one!  But I digress…

Mom and I combined our visit to Wall Drug with dinner.  I had a buffalo burger, which was good, but somehow I neglected to snap a picture…  We decided to forego the ice cream for dessert, although it did look really delicious.  Instead we took a bit of time to go find the rideable Jackalope out back!  Because a trip to Wall Drug is not complete without sitting astride a 10 foot tall fiberglass Jackalope!  The stirrups were too short for this equestrienne, but I tried to make the best of it with my long remembered equitation skills.  Mom even played along and climbed up there too.

The Wall Drug Cafe – I got to stare at the ice cream counter all through dinner!

 

Me riding the Jackalope

 

Mom riding the Jackalope!

We also found a stuffed bison to pose with – she had seen better days – I imagine she’s been petted by millions over the years. And we checked out an exhibit on gold mining, where you can pan for gold for a fee, but it was closed when we were there.  The mall has a Western art museum as well that would have been cool to check out if we had more time – it is free to visit.

Me with the stuffed bison – up close and personal

In the end, we departed with full bellies but passed on purchasing the mounted jackalopes or other Wall Drug souvenirs, and got on the road towards home (Custer, SD, that is…).  We still had a fair bit of driving and one more, very odd, stop to make…

Badlands National Park History

Badlands National Park is a picture of contrasts.  While seemingly a harsh desolate environment made up of eroded buttes, spires and pinnacles, it also contains the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States.  A prairie that teams with life.

Badlands began as Badlands National Monument on March 4, 1929 when it was authorized by Herbert Hoover, although it wasn’t established until January 25, 1939 (Franklin Roosevelt was President by then).  It was re-designated as a National Park on November 10, 1978.  The park protects 242,756 acres of land, of which 64,144 is designated wilderness.  The park had 966,263 visitors in 2016 – my mom and I were two of them!!

A stunning badlands view...

A stunning badlands view…

The park boundaries are brimming with fossils; it actually contains the richest deposits of Oligocene mammals known.  It sort of boggles the mind to imagine mammals roaming around on this land 33 million years ago, but there they were.  The fossil remains in the park include camels, three-toed horses, oreodonts, antelope-like animals, rhinoceroses, deer-like mammals, rabbits, beavers, creodonts, land turtles, rodents and birds.  There are also a fair number of marine animals in the fossil record here, including ammonites, nautiloids, fish, marine reptiles, and turtles.

Badlands has known human habitation for approximately 11,000 years.  The paleo-Indians, although little studied, are the inhabitants who arrived after crossing the ice bridge from Eurasia in the late Pleistocene period (“i” before “e” except after “c”, or in Pleistocene, apparently…).  Stone tools, including projectile points, have been found in the area, as well as charcoal from ancient campfires.  Later came the Arikara, and then the Lakota, who used the elevation of the Badlands Wall to scout for herds for hunting, as well as approaching enemies.

At the end of the 19th century, homesteaders and gold miners moved into the nearby area, and the U.S. government forced the tribes onto reservations, including one called the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.  Many of the Oglala Sioux in the area fought the orders to move to reservations, and instead chose to defy the order, following the prophet Wovoka.  From this movement, the Ghost Dance was born.  The Sioux believed that the Ghost Dance would restore their land and force the white settlers and government agents to leave, and that the Ghost Shirts that they wore would be impervious to bullets.  Well…  This didn’t end up panning out, and sadly the ghost dancers, being pursued by government troops in 1890, ended up seeking refuge on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Gunfire erupted as the soldiers were attempting to disarm the group – as the story goes a deaf man named Black Coyote was reluctant to give up his rifle, since he had paid a lot for it.  On December 29, 1890, what became known as the Wounded Knee Massacre killed over 300 Native Americans and 30 soldiers.  It was the last big clash between Plains Indians and U.S. troops in the series of clashes that became known as the Indian Wars.  The Pine Ridge Reservation now contains the Stronghold Unit and the Pine Creek Unit of Badlands National Park within its boundaries.  Although the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre is not within the boundaries of the park, it is nearby and open to the public.

Badlands has lots to do – there are hikes of all levels, from a 0.25 mile flat traverse over a raised boardwalk to a 10 mile back-country hike.  The trails range from easy to strenous, but you do need to plan accordingly for extreme temperatures and weather (both in summer and winter).  You can back-country camp, cycle on the roads (paved, dirt or gravel), and there is a night sky program.  Wildlife viewing is also popular at the park, with prairie dogs, bison, deer, pronghorn, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, badgers, coyotes, bobcats, and black-footed ferrets being just some of the species found in the park.  67 species of birds are known to nest within the park and over 200 species have been documented there.  There are also reptiles, amphibians and butterflies present there.

I have been excited about visiting this park for a long time, and I was finally going to be able to visit!  Posts coming soon!

 

 

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!