Moose live in South Dakota
Wind Cave National Park is located in the south-eastern Black Hills of South Dakota. The park includes a limestone cave and 13,399 hectares of mixed green prairie and pondarosa pine forest.
Wind Cave National Park preserves and protects the cave and the natural wealth of the prairie. The park is named after the tremendous wind that blows in and out of the only natural entrance to the cave that has so far been discovered. Wind Cave has over 230.39 kilometers of uncovered passages and more are still being explored. One of the great features of the cave is the boxwork, a honeycomb formation of calcite protruding from the walls and ceilings of the cave. Other formations, such as popcorn, frostwork, dog teeth, spar and flowstone, can also be seen. The cave is also significant because of its length and the many different steps that make it one of the most complex confusion caves in the world. It is the fourth longest in the world.
Over 70% of the park consists of mixed grass prairie. Native grass varieties such as Buffalograss, Gross Blau Stemm and Gramma thrive here. Wind Cave National Park is a biological meeting place for plants and animals from different geographic areas of North America. American elm and burr oaks grow here from the eastern forests with yucca and cacti from the south-west, western Pondarosa pines and Rocky Mountain junipers. Because of the great variety of plants, the park can receive a large number of different native prairie animals. Various species of eastern and western birds and other animals can also be found in this area.
Discovery and the early years
Although Indians probably knew about the cave, it wasn't discovered by the settlers until 1881. Jesse and Tom Bingham were made aware of the cave by a loud whistling sound. Legend has it that the wind blew so hard from the natural entrance of the cave that it blew Tom's hat off. A few days later, when Jesse came back to show some friends this phenomenon, he was amazed that the wind was blowing into the cave this time. It was later found that the wind direction was directly related to the air pressure between the cave and the surface.
Reports of the unique composition of Wind Cave attracted many curious people. Local businessmen, the McDonald and Stabler families, founded the Wonderful Windcave Improvement Company in 1892. This company enlarged the cave corridors and led tourists through the cave for cash. Various types such as boxwork, popcorn, calcite, etc. were also sold.
Establishment of the national park
The government became aware of Wind Cave when the two families argued over ownership of the cave. It turned out that none of the families had a legal claim to the land. In 1903 the Congress declared Wind Cave a national park. It was the seventh national park, but the first to protect a cave.
In order to restore the population of the native animals (bison, elk, pronghorn antelope) in the Black Hills, the Wind Cave Game Preserve was rounded up in 1912. These animals were extinct in the area mainly due to uncontrolled hunting. The eastern moose became totally extinct as a result. Today in Wind Cave National Park, because of the game reserves, Rocky Mountain moose live.
An example of successful repopulation is the bison. In 1913, the American Bison Society donated 14 bison from the New York Zoological Society to the zoo. Today around 350 bison live in the park.
Other animal species, such as deer, prairie dogs, prairie rattlesnakes, porcupines, badgers, and many species of birds live in the prairie, forest, and mountains of Wind Cave National Park.
The Wind Cave is carved out of layers of Pahasapa limestone (a Lakota Sioux word for black mountains). This type of limestone is about 100 meters deep and once covered the entire Black Hills area.
For millions of years the seas that once covered North America had deposited the limestone. When marine life died, calcium carbonate skeletons and seashells settled on the ocean floor and formed the stone.
Naturally occurring carbonic acids began to dissolve the limestone in the upper layers of the cave about 320 million years ago. Later, about 60 million years ago, pressure in the earth raised the Rocky Mountains and Black Hills. This pressure caused large cracks and fractures in the limestone. Over millions of years, water that seeped through these cracks slowly dissolved the limestone and formed the labyrinth of cave lanes. This makes Wind Cave one of the oldest caves in the world.
Protection and security
All plants, animals and natural occurrences in the Wind Cave National Park are protected in the park and must not be disturbed. Please respect the wild animals by keeping your distance and not feeding them. The animals are allowed to roam freely in the park and although they look tame, they are often unpredictable. Bison are particularly dangerous in July and August during the rutting season. The cave itself is also under protection and should be treated with the utmost respect.
Please do not touch anything or take anything out of the cave. In addition, you should not eat, drink, smoke, or use chewing gum or chewing tobacco. It is recommended to wear flat rubber-soled shoes as the cave paths are slippery and uneven. In some corridors the ceilings are low and you may have to stoop. The cave has no toilet. The toilets are located in the visitor center and in the elevator building. The cave temperature is 12 ° C, so we recommend bringing a light jacket.
The visitor center is open all year round and offers guided tours. The car zone and the Vuchladen in the visitor center are also open all year round.
The Elk Mountain Camping site is also open all year round, with limited operation in winter. For the more adventurous, camping is permitted in the northwestern part of the park. A free tent permit must be filled out at the visitor center or at the beginning of the Centennial Trail. A map of the various hiking trails in the Wind Cave National Park can be obtained from the visitor center.
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