Bordered to the north by Custer State Park and to the west by Black Hills National Forest, Wind Cave National Park in southwest South Dakota includes more than 144 mi/232 km of passageways. The winds referred to in the name come from the cave's "breathing" as the air in the cave responds to changes in barometric pressure outside. The rare reddish-brown rock formations inside, called boxwork, look like stone honeycombs, and other unusual formations include frostwork, popcorn and helictite bushes.
The Lakota and Cheyenne tribes consider this site a sacred place and have many stories about the cave's natural entrance and the flow of air coming and going from it. White settlers first entered the cave in 1881, and President Theodore Roosevelt established the national park to protect the natural treasure in 1903. It soon became a prairie game preserve, and endangered species, such as bison, pronghorn and elk, were sent in to reestablish populations. Today, descendants of those first animals still roam the plains of the park. Other wildlife includes eagles and wild turkeys.
Five cave tours range from one to four hours in length and from an easy hike to a strenuous spelunking adventure. Visitors should go early to avoid the crowds and take a jacket, as the underground temperature is a consistent 53 F/12 C. Visitors can also enjoy backcountry camping, hiking, horseback riding and more.
The park is open daily 24 hours, and admission is free. Phone 605-745-4600. https://www.nps.gov/wica.
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