To start the summer, Wind Cave National Park will offer free cave tours on Tuesday, June 21. All thirty cave tours that day will be free. The first tour starts at 8:40 a.m. and the last tour leaves at 6 p.m. All cave tours begin at the visitor center which is open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. For those interested in the Candlelight and Wild Cave Tours, reservations are recommended; otherwise, all tours are first come, first served.
The secret entrance to Wind Cave in South Dakota, one of the longest and most complex cave systems in the world, was only known to the American Indians in southwestern South Dakota. This secret lasted for centuries. Lakota stories speak of a hole in the Black Hills that blows air. It is a scared place for the Lakota, with tipi rings near the present day elevator building at Wind Cave National Park indicating that the Lakota knew long before anyone else of the incredible cave’s entrance point.
As legend has it, in 1881, two men, Jesse and Tom Bingham, were led to the cave by a whistling noise. The legend has it that wind coursing out of the cave was so strong it blew off Tom’s hat. A few days later Jesse returned to show some friends this strange phenomenon, only to have his hat sucked into the cave. It is understood now that the direction of the blowing in or out of the cave mouth has to do with the difference in atmospheric pressure between the cave and the surface.
Once the magnitude of the cave’s depth and reach was discovered, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill turning the cave into Wind Cave National Park in 1903. In 1912, the American Bison Society decided the prairie habitat surrounding Wind Cave National park was perfect to reestablish a bison herd. The park today is home to a wide variety of plants, reptiles, mammals, insects, spiders, centipedes and millipedes, fish, birds, and amphibians that live around the cave complex.
Wind Cave National Park was created to protect one of the world’s greatest maze-cave systems, with the rare geological formations called “boxwork” here in the caves in abundance . As the National Parks Service explains, “Boxwork is made of thin blades of calcite that project from cave walls and ceilings, forming a honeycomb pattern. The fins intersect one another at various angles, forming ‘boxes’ on all cave surfaces. Boxwork is largely confined to dolomite layers in the middle and lower levels of Wind Cave.” They report that boxwork can be found in small amounts in other caves, but no other cave on the planet has such abundant and well formed boxwork as Wind Cave.
It’s a magical, ancient place, something that belongs on any serious spelunker, or naturalists’s, bucket list.