Wind Cave, South Dakota on the map. National Park Wind Cave (South Dakota) on the map of US

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Wind Cave, South Dakota on the map. National Park Wind Cave (South Dakota) on the map of US

Wind Cave is really two parks— the cave and the prairie above. The prairie is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including pronghorn antelope (far right). These swift mammals are truly American natives, found nowhere else in the world. Pronghorns have roamed the plains of North America for at least the last million years.

Also found on the prairie is a small herd of bison (below), a reminder of the vast herds that once covered the plains of North America.

Wind Cave, South Dakota

Established: 1903   Acreage: 28,292

Wind Cave, like Carlsbad Caverns was formed by the action of water. It lies on a layer of limestone rock 300 to 600 feet thick. Beginning about 60 million years ago the rain fell into the cracks in this limestone layer and gradually dissolved it away from the harder rock. The temperature in the cave never changes—it remains at 47 degrees Fahrenheit.

An early handbill proclaimed the cave 'the Great Freak of Nature.' Although native Americans may have known of the cave, it was not discovered by white men until 1881, when Jesse and Tom Bingham heard a loud whistling noise. The sound led them to a small hole in the ground, the cave's only natural opening. A wind was said to be blowing with such force that it knocked off Jesse's hat. That wind, which gave the cave its name, is created by differences between atmospheric pressures in the cave and outside.

This underground world is a complex maze of more than 40 miles of mapped passageways, containing boxwork, popcorn and frostwork formations, and over 1000 passages are yet to be explored. Early adventurers found chocolate-colored crystals, formations resembling faces of animals and chambers that inspired names such as The Garden of Eden' and 'The Dungeon.' Reports of these strange discoveries drew tourists to the area. Before the cave was protected by the National Park Service, enterprising local residents blasted open passages, guided tourists through for a fee and sold cave specimens.

In addition to the wonders of the cave, the park serves as a wildlife sanctuary, established as such in 1912. The park's primary objective as a sanctuary was the restoration of populations of bison, elk and pronghorn to the Black Hills. By the

late 1800s these animals had been decimated, mostly because of uncontrolled hunting. Perhaps no other animal symbolizes the West as dramatically as the American bison. In 1800, an estimated 40 million bison roamed the plains, yet by 1883, there were no wild bison in the United States. By 1900, there were less than 600 left in North America. The majority of the 40 million animals were killed in a 55-year period, beginning in 1830. Starting with 14 bison donated by the Bronx Zoo in 1913, the herd today numbers about 350.

Mule deer, prairie dogs, cottontail rabbits, coyotes, badgers, rattlesnakes and numerous kinds of birds also live in the prairies and forests of Wind Hill. Located near the middle of the country, the park is home to plant and animal species found in both the East and the West. It is not unusual to find pinyon jays and ponderosa pines from the West and bluebirds and American elms from the East.

 

Wind Cave, South Dakota on the map. National Park Wind Cave (South Dakota) on the map of US