Day: 17-18
Miles: 3,500ish
Locations: Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument, Black Hills, South Dakota
Boxwork in Wind Cave
This journey has finally taken me underground! My adventures have brought me to South Dakota and the famed Black Hills. Famed mostly to road-trippers and rock climbers! The Black Hills are somewhat of a Midwestern anomaly. As the ranger says, "Welcome to the Black Hills, you had to cross a lot of flat land to get here!" Its a small mountain range that rises 2,500ft straight out of the great plains. There's a lot of good rock climbing, caving and hiking in this less explored part of the country!

The day began with a cave tour of Jewel Cave. I use the term "caving" very loosely; its a guided tour on stairs and trails that have been constructed inside the cave. Nevertheless it was fascinating to find out that Jewel Cave is the 2nd longest cave in the world at 150 miles AND COUNTING! Jewel Cave is STILL being explored and they theorize that 5%-10% has been explored. To me, this is unfathomable. The length of the cave is somewhat misleading because the cave is not one straight tube. In fact, its a complex network of chambers stacked on top of each other like a building. So in reality, the 150 miles of the cave are all within 3 square miles. The cave tour is interesting and informative, but doesn't even scrape the surface of whats really there (no pun intended)
Strange Formations
Wind Cave was only 30 minutes away so I had to see it! Along the way, I got my first shower in a week at Custer State Park. Heaven....

Wind Cave is the 4th longest cave in the world at 130 miles and counting. Both caves are very similar but Wind Cave has different formations. Also, it is more compact; the entire cave is within 1 square mile. I did think it a little funny that you take an elevator down into the cave for the tours. Unfortunately I did not get many good pictures from either cave.
Topside adventures! Wind Cave is a National Park with some excellent prairie hiking opportunities. In fact, I saw a great deal of wildlife while hiking in Wind Cave! Saw some pronghorns, several bison, white-tale deer, elk, wild turkeys and many different birds. The spring seems to be an excellent time for wildlife viewing without viewing any tourists!

A word about wildlife viewing. The key word is WILD-life. People think bison and elk are like farm animals: docile and easy to pet. A bison is a 2-ton animal that can run twice as fast as you. When I came across the bison herd, I was at least 1,000 yards away and I felt like I was too close. Bison and elk can be very territorial and can be every bit as dangerous as bears. Do not run towards nor approach a bison!!!
Appropriate Distance
In many ways, I enjoyed hiking around Wind Cave more than the caving itself. The hiking was very free-range and enjoyable while the caving was strict. Obviously caves do not exactly regrow when peaple damage them so the regulations were necessary. But I still liked the freedom the hike around the park and enjoy the abundant wildlife viewing. The clouds also created a beautiful rainbow over the horizon!

The Black Hills are an impressive and unique part of the country with the best wildlife viewing I've ever been able to see! Please put this one on your list!