Last night I didn’t sleep very well for whatever reason so when I got up this morning, I was already quite tired. But we had some big plans for the day. We had decided to go first to Wind Cave National Park and then over to the Mammoth site near Hot Springs. I’ll post about the Mammoth site in an later blog entry, and will focus on the Wind Cave NP visit.
Wind Cave is about 30 miles SSE of Custer. The roads are an easy drive and I must compliment South Dakota on the condition of their roads. They are superb! Of all our time in the state so far, we have not been on a bad road. Some other states could take lessons here.
We arrived at the visitors center and signed up for the Garden of Eden tour. This is the shortest and easiest tour lasting for 1 hour and only 150 stairs. You enter via elevator to the upper level of the cave some 120 feet below the surface. The elevator makes that trip in 27 seconds!
It is dark in the cave but they have installed electric lighting. Our tour was along a concrete walkway and where there were stairs, there were railings to hold onto. The cave is a wet area and the railings were always wet too! And the ceilings can get very low without too much warning! Not for NBA Players for sure!
The Civilian Conservation Corps built the walkways in the 1930s. To get the concrete into the cave and where it was needed, they took large truck tire tubes, cut them in half, and sealed one end. Then they filled them with mixed concrete and closed the other end. They then climbed down into the cave with these tubes over their shoulders!
In many places, the ceilings are quite low. I had to frequently bend over and still managed to hit my head once on it.
These formations are actually all caused by water flow!
This formation was along one of the walls we walked by.
This formation looks very brittle and is caused by air moving over the dripping water. The water carries minerals and deposits them and then as the air in the cave blows over, it makes jagged ends that are very brittle.
This is called cave flowstone. In person, it looks wet and could be ice cream!
This side shot shows cave “boxwork” formations.
Here is an even closer view of the boxwork.
As we descended into the cave the air pressure got lower and lower. Apparently when the pressure outdoors differs from that in the cave, you get a lot of air movement in one direction or the other.
When we were at our lowest point, fortunately not far from the end, I was having difficulty breathing. (I had a lobe of a lung removed in 2004 so I only have about 76% of a normal lung capacity to begin with.) But as we came up to the surface, the symptoms pretty much disappeared. That episode and my tiredness from not sleeping so well made this more stressful than I would have liked.
After visiting the cave, we went to Hot Springs and had a lunch at Woolys Grill. And then we went to the Mammoth site which I will document in a future blog post.
Today the temperatures were in the low seventies – a major improvement from what we had last week.
If you have the time, here is a movie of the cave tour. Please note that the lighting is poor as you might expect and the scenes drift in and out of focus sometimes as the distance to the various objects can shift rapidly.