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You Leave Her Alone For Just a Minute…

Day 5: August 9, 2016

In my last post on the West trip, my mom and I went on the Fairgrounds Tour at Jewel Cave National Park.  After we left there, we had plenty more touristing to do for the day, so we got on our way.  We planned to find a picnic area to have our picnic lunch, and see if we could spot any wildlife.  Jewel Cave has bison, elk, and a host of other critters, and it is right next to Custer State Park, which deserves a couple of posts on its own…

But anywhoo…  Looking for bison…  We saw a scenic viewpoint that looked out onto a grassy field, so we stopped so I could walk over the rise and see if there were any bison.  It was already hot that day, and mom didn’t want to go with me, so I left the car running so she could use the air conditioner.

I head off, trek over the rise, spot no bison, take a few photos of the view, and head back up the hill to the car.  I was gone less than 5 minutes.

I get back to find my mom, standing outside of the car, staring at it.  And the car has jumped the curb and is no less than 1/4″ from one of those solid, CCC-built rock walls with a lovely interpretive sign on top.  My first thought was, “Seriously, WTF are you doing Mom?  I just left you alone for a minute!”  It took me a couple more seconds for things to sink in.  Blame it on sleep deprivation…

This is mom’s version of events.  I popped out of the car, and head off over the hill, at which point the car starts to roll backwards toward the road.  So, she turns it off.  At which point, it starts rolling forward again, and slowly rolls toward the wall, jumps the curb and stops, miraculously, right before hitting the wall.  At which point she gets out and assesses the damage, and then meets me upon my return.

It was a rental car, so this could have been bad news, but even still, remember at the beginning of this trip log, I told you that our rental Subaru had already been beat to hell by a hailstorm right before we arrived?  I wonder if a few bumper scratches would have been any cause for concern.

Publicly, I am sticking to my story that nothing happened that day at that viewpoint in Jewel Cave National Park.  Mom made up the whole thing… Because we all know that if you have no photos, it didn’t happen.  There’s nothing to see here, folks…

The scenic view at Wind Cave.  No bison…  No cars…

Things I Learned Today…

  1. Either taking 1 sleeping pill affects me enough so that I still feel groggy 18 hours later, or I am still very sick…
  2. Some people will come right out and tell you how lazy they are, although usually not in so many words.
  3. When you think you truly cannot go on for one more minute, go outside and listen to the birds.  It helps.
  4. Sometimes a random text from a complete stranger with no agenda really does brighten your day a little.

I took this photo on a walk at the university last week – I do live in a beautiful place.

Cherry blossoms in bloom

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.

Darwin is Still Hanging On…

So this post is a little different than my typical posts on wine and travel. I’ll warn you now – this post is full of gore and tragedy, so if you have a weak stomach, don’t read on.

Today is April Fool’s Day, which ever since 1992 has been a different type of anniversary for me. On April 1, 1992, my beloved 4 year old quarter horse gelding Biz, tried to run through or jump the electric wire fence in his field – I will never really know what happened. Upon finding him standing in shock in a pool of blood, I stumbled back to the barn to get help. Friends later told me they thought I was playing a practical joke, until they saw that all the blood had drained out of my face. The vet was called, and he received a police escort to the farm when a Sheriff’s Deputy friend heard the call come out over the radio. Friends at the stable tried to stop the bleeding, and one friend held Biz’s head up and out of the way for 6 hours while the vets stitched and stitched to try to close the wounds (a second vet had arrived about an hour later when he finished up another call). Meanwhile, I was also dealing with a sudden onset migraine headache (Dad, I’m still sorry I threw up in your 1968 Cougar). When the vets finally finished up that first night, after 10 pm, Biz had over 1000 stitches in his front legs, and fractures in his knees, over his eye, and across the bridge of his nose. They estimate he had lost about 4 gallons of blood.

Biz was so badly injured that our veterinarian did not think he would live. At the time, the prognosis was that he had a 5 – 10% chance of surviving the accident, and if he did, he only had a 5 – 10% chance of being anything more than a big, expensive, lawn ornament. The only thing going for him was that although he had cut himself so badly he had exposed bone, nerves and did extreme damage to the muscle, he narrowly avoided cutting any of his tendons. For a horse, severing a tendon would have been a death sentence, because it would mean he would lose the use of the leg.

So, being the stubborn, foolish teenager that I was, I decided to give him a chance. For the next 5 months, extensive wound care, hand walking, and trying to keep him from re-injuring himself became my before and after school job. As the damaged tissue died, he smelled like death. As the skin around the wound died, the stitches pulled out, leaving holes in his legs that were 5 inches deep. For the first several days, he couldn’t move his legs forward very well, so he shuffled from side to side. The fracture over his eye caused blood to pool in the white of his eye, and looking at him broke my heart. The risk of infection was ever present, especially since the wounds were so large. I breathed a huge sigh of relief each day that infection didn’t set in. Sometimes, when cleaning the wound, I accidentally touched the exposed nerve bundle, causing him excruciating pain. When he got bored, confined to his stall for days, he tried to knock me over with his head while I knelt next to him.

Amazingly, he never fought against his treatment. He took it all in stride. He was as content as ever, with a hearty appetite and a devious twinkle in his eye. When I took him out for a walk, he wanted so much to run and play. He didn’t act like he was as badly injured as he was. It was a struggle to keep him from tearing the lead rope out of my hands, which would have meant a serious risk of re-injury. Fortunately, he managed to avoid hurting himself again. When spring gave way to summer, the risk of infection came again, in the form of flies who wanted to constantly land on his wounds. Fortunately, Biz dodged that bullet too. Every day, the wounds closed a little bit. Every day, a little more fresh, pink skin closed in around those gaping holes in his legs.

It took more than 5 months for the wounds to finally close. Biz defied the odds, and he can do most things other horses can do, although he isn’t the most coordinated guy. But then again, he never was. The vet recommended I start riding again at a walk, a month after the accident, because he had so much energy it was getting tough to control him from the ground. We slowly worked back up to normal capacity. If you didn’t know Biz before the accident, you might not notice the hitch he has in his stride, because those front legs just don’t move quite right now. He has extensive scarring across his front legs, where no hair grows. If you look carefully, his chest is still marked with 5 thin, hairless scars, one for each of the 5 strands of that electric wire fence. The bridge of his nose has a bump, and his back legs are dotted with scars too.

I would like to say Biz grew smarter and more cautious after that, but he didn’t, and he has continued to have a talent for rare and creative injuries and illnesses. I’ve come to accept that it’s part of what makes Biz, Biz. He is almost 30 now, certainly slowing down. For the most part, his flesh tearing injuries have given way to fungal skin infections and the degenerative processes of age. He only has 3 of his original 12 front teeth.  Arthritis makes it difficult for him to get up after he lays down to roll – but once he’s up, he still sometimes runs and plays like a young man.

At the time, it seemed unreal to believe that there was any way Biz could have made it through. But now, I still think about that day, 25 years ago, and how friends and people who barely knew me pulled together to help a gangly, goofy horse become a miracle.