A Windy Finale – Wind Cave National Park

A Windy Finale – Wind Cave National Park

After our sandy and snowy time in Colorado we made our way to the last stop on this leg of the journey—South Dakota. While the comforts of family, friends, and (let’s be honest) showering regularly are inviting, we’re sad to end this travel session. We plan to go out with a bang though and have many grand plans for South Dakota.

There’s not one, but two caves close in proximity to one-another—Wind Cave and Jewel Cave. If you haven’t noticed, we kind of have a thing for caves. Batman is my favorite superhero, after all. Other stops on the docket include Custer State Park, the Black Hills, maybe even a peak at Crazy Horse Memorial and The Heads (aka Mount Rushmore). Then onto the Badlands. Of course, there’s also Wall Drug Store and the famous Corn Palace of Mitchell. We’ve been to many of these places during our childhood years but were looking forward to experiencing them again through adult (well, as adult as we are) eyes. Unfortunately, once again, nature bested us!

Wind Cave National Park

We made it to our first South Dakota destination—Wind Cave National Park. It’s not the longest or the most decorated cave, but it was the best cave tour we’ve been on. Don’t get me wrong, the other tours were good, but the ranger who led this tour is fantastic. She’s an animated storyteller and painted a vivid picture of what it was like to explore the cave throughout history.

Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota has the best cave tour! Find out all about it in this post.
Our storytelling ranger guide leading us through the dark cave.

Wind Cave is named for the gusts that blow in and out of it. Sometimes the opening expels cool air and sometimes it sucks air in depending on the barometric pressure. With parts formed over 300 million years ago, it’s one of the oldest caves in the world and one of the most complex. The 143 known miles of cave sit beneath just one square mile of land. That’s a lot of twists of turns and climbs and descents. A trained caver participating in a mock search and rescue exercise got lost in the cave for over 30 hours back in the 80s.

Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota has the best cave tour! Find out all about it in this post.
See that tiny hole? That’s the natural entrance that early explorers used to squeeze through to access the cave.

Boxwork formations are another unique feature of Wind Cave. These look like honeycomb patterns covering the ceilings of large rooms and passageways. Boxwork is very rare and found in few caves. Wind Cave has more boxwork than anywhere else. Our enthusiastic guide pointed out many of these formations along the way. She ended the tour by sharing the Lakota Emergence Story. It’s a tale about how bison were created, and humans came to live above ground instead of in Wind Cave.

Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota has the best cave tour! Find out all about it in this post.
Intricate and elaborate boxwork formations inside Wind Cave.
Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota has the best cave tour! Find out all about it in this post.
Another unique formation along the tour.

More Wind Back Above Ground

After the cave tour, we attempted some above ground exploration. Unfortunately, Stan once again was leaking radiator fluid. Not copious amounts like previously, but we didn’t want to contaminate the natural surroundings, so we instead headed out of the park.

Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota has the best cave tour! Find out all about it in this post.
At least we had a few wildlife sightings on our drive out of the park.

Meanwhile in Wisconsin and unbeknownst to us, a wind storm was raging. Partway out of the park and pondering what to do about Stan, I received a text from my mom. It said that a tree had fallen on the garage, one of their vehicles, and my car. While downsizing, one thing we held onto was my car. It gets great gas mileage, is paid off, has a super low odometer reading, and is perfect for running all over the state of Wisconsin when we’re there. Fortunately, no one and no pets were injured in the tree incident, but my dear little car was crushed.

After a rant of expletives, we couldn’t help but laugh (in that hysterical kind of way) at the irony. We’ve driven over 18,000 miles this year in Stan the Tan Van. Traveled all around the country and been caught in an abundance of bad weather. In all these miles and all these storms, we’ve certainly encountered mechanical trouble, but no real accidents. (This assumes that backing into a ditch and being rescued by bikers doesn’t count.) The vehicle that has an accident (a wind-caused accident while we were in Wind Cave, I might add) is the one that’s been stationary the entire time. Not sure if this level of irony is 90’s song worthy but it’s hard not to feel like nature’s playing some cruel joke on us.

Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota has the best cave tour! Find out all about it in this post.
Sad smashed car.

Cutting it Short

As much as we still wanted to explore South Dakota, getting to Wisconsin quickly seemed like the necessary move. There was something wrong with Stan and we couldn’t figure out what it was. Plus, there’s the crushed car to deal with. It took us two more days to finish the voyage. In that time, I came down with the flavor of the year’s influenza. I’m talking all out needles in throat, fever, chills, can’t sleep, can’t breathe sick. Of course, in all my cockiness I had recently proclaimed “Isn’t it amazing that neither of us has been sick since we hit the road?” I’m pretty good at eating my words.

This wasn’t the happy conclusion we’d anticipated. Rolling in with yet more mechanical trouble, miserably sick, and with a literal heaping mess of a car to deal with. On top of that, we’re disappointed to cut our travels short. The upside is, all of this makes us eager to hit the road again. We’re already talking about the places we’ll go and things we want to do. Hopefully Stan and I will both be in better shape.

Have you ever fallen ill while traveling? How did you deal with it? Any recommended remedies?

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Wind Cave has the best cave tour! Find out why in this post.

2 thoughts on “A Windy Finale – Wind Cave National Park

  1. I’m sorry to hear about your little car 🙁
    I’m sure you are feeling better by now Liana–hope it didn’t last too long.
    I have never seen formations like that in a cave (boxwork)–that is so cool!

    1. Thanks Kiersten. We were bummed about my car at first, but now we’re kind of glad it happened. It’s one less thing to worry about now. And when Stan acts up we can always say, “well at least a tree didn’t fall on him”. The boxwork formations are so incredible!

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