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01 September 2017 @ 01:51 pm
Vacation, Part 3: Wind Cave National Park and on to Wyoming  
One of my life list items is visiting every National Park in the U.S. So it made sense to leverage off my trip to Carhenge to drive a couple of hours further north to Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. (For those who might wonder, I had previously been to Badlands National Park. In fact, I think that may have been the first National Park I ever went to.) It was an easy and uncrowded drive, with the highlight being a sudden stop to let a couple of pronghorn cross the road just before I got to the turnoff for the park visitor center. Once at the visitor center, I had to choose which tour to take. I decided on the Natural Entrance tour, which is the most popular. You’re not allowed to take any bags into the cave, so I went back out to the car to leave pretty much everything except my camera (and my wallet and car keys). I did have time to stamp my National Park passport book and to buy a long-sleeved tee shirt, as well as to watch the park movie and read some of the exhibits, before the tour.

The tour passes the natural entrance, but doesn’t actually use it. The ranger did use a ribbon to demonstrate the wind from the cave that gives it its name. Then we went through a door and down a lot of steps into the cave. There are a total of about 300 steps along the tour (mostly down – you take an elevator out) and roughly half of them are in this first section. When the whole group got down, the ranger talked about two specific types of formations in the cave – boxwork and frostwork. Frankly, neither is anywhere near as spectacular as normal stalagmites and stalactites.

We continued along through the cave, with various stops for talks. The tour covers about 2/3 of a mile, which is a very small part of the overall cave complex, which is still not completely mapped. The most interesting parts were when our ranger (Sina Bear Eagle, a Lakota woman) told the Lakota emergence story, which has to do with the origins of both bison and people. She also read some fascinating excerpts from a journal kept by Alvin MacDonald, who led early tours of the cave. Apparently, it didn’t bother him to leave 3 of the 9 people on one of his tours in the cave overnight!

After the tour was over, I contemplated doing one or two of the short nature trails that were alleged to start near the visitor center. I was, alas, unable to find where either of the trailheads was, so nixed that plan. Instead, I drove on, stopping to look at a herd of bison just outside the park road. These were reintroduced to the area in 1913 and came mostly from the Bronx Zoo. (A few more were brought over from Yellowstone in 1916.) They’re really quite magnificent, at least from what I consider a safe distance.

The next couple of hours involved driving a series of back roads from South Dakota going west and then south into Wyoming. My destination for the night was Guernsey, Wyoming. I’d booked a room at the Cobblestone Inn there based pretty much on being a reasonable distance for my plans. It was adequate. I’d have said it was nice, but the first room they put me in had not actually been serviced. And the second one was lacking a shower curtain. But the really egregious sin was their failure to have coffee / hot water available in the breakfast room the next morning. Yes, I understand that things break, but as a person who considers access to caffeine to be a basic human right, being told just to use the coffeemaker in my room makes me knock at least one to two stars off my rating of any hotel.

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