Saturday, September 12, 2009

Wind Cave National Park, Black Hills, SD

Wind Cave National Park is a wonderful place for stillness and reflection, and there is no fee to enter the park. The Elk Mountain Campground in the park offers a large number of campsites but was nevertheless quiet and peaceful. A number of us enjoyed the evening campfire presentation on the country's national parks system, after which we repaired to our respective tents and trailers for the night.

The campground provides numerous bathrooms and water sources, but not showers. There is no source of food in the park, but I had brought tea and oatmeal from home. I cooked breakfast using an Esbit stove, which I bought on the cheap, figuring I would upgrade later if I camped much. Given that I purchased the stove two years ago and this was my first time to use it, my decision seems reasonable. Lesson learned: bring instant oatmeal. Do not cook regular oatmeal over the stove. I had to use three Esbit tablets (one to warm the water, one to make the water hot enough for tea and to add the oatmeal, and a third one to finish the oatmeal). It took ages to get the pot clean, too. An Esbit cube burns at full force or not at all, so when the oatmeal is almost cooked, it gets burned. Flames shoot everywhere, and the fire is not very efficient, also scorching anything under the stove, so it is important to put the stove in the firepit.

At any rate, I did at length enjoy St. Isaac's Blend tea with fully cooked rolled oats flavored with fruit bits and cinnamon. I spent about two hours cooking breakfast and breaking camp, so I did not go see the sunrise over the glorious plains of Wind Cave park. The above-ground area truly is magnificent. It is a wildlife preserve supporting 300 head of bison, as well as a herd of pronghorn antelope, at least one gigantic prairie dog town, and some black-footed ferrets that feed on the prairie dogs.

Rather than exploring the glorious prairie and accumulating inglorious deer ticks, I went to the cave and took a tour. It was the Fairgrounds tour, the most extensive one you can take without going on a specialty tour. The specialty tours are the Candlelight tour and the introduction to cave exploration. The Fairgrounds tour is named for the large room that they call the Fairgrounds; I was never entirely certain when we were there. However, I did get to see several examples of the cave's famous boxwork. Wind Cave was formed by standing water and condensation, rather than dripping water, so it has very few of the usual formations found in limestone caves such as flowstone or stalactites. It does have less common formations such as frostwork, popcorn, and boxwork. Boxwork appears when cracks in limestone fill with harder mineral deposits, and the limestone gradually weathers away, leaving the box-shaped mineral deposits behind.



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