When Jessica and I were planning our cross-country road trip, I must admit that we weren’t particularly excited about South Dakota. We knew we would be passing through the state based on our plans to visit Wyoming, so we through some well-know landmarks on our itinerary. We were both surprised by how much we enjoyed our stops.
Having stopped at Devils Tower earlier in the day, Jessica and I rolled into the Black Hills around sunset. After driving around a bit we found the last available campsite and settled in for the evening. The next day, after a quick breakfast, we made our way to Wind Cave National Park to explore.
The hour-or-so drive to the park gave us a quick intro to the Black Hills of western South Dakota. We were amazed by the beauty of the rolling hills and exposed rock formations. Because we were up early we saw a lot of wildlife including the pronghorn in the above photo–did you know that pronghorn’s top speed is almost as fast as a cheetah’s, and they can run 35 mph for 4 miles?!
Despite the above-ground beauty, the real highlight of Wind Cave is, obviously, the cave. Wind Cave’s name comes from the strong wind that came out of its opening due to differences in air pressure below and above ground. You can’t enter the cave without a NPS tour guide, so Jessica and I joined a big group and rode the elevator into the cave.
In a lot of ways, caves are exactly what you expect. You are immediately aware of their otherworldliness and oddities. Floor, walls, and ceiling are all the same. The air feels damp and extra-thick. You become disoriented almost immediately, and there is always that lingering sense of claustrophobia in the back of your mind.
Still, caves are beautiful for their differences. They aren’t flat but grow and expand outward organically. Much of the rock seems to have grown (and some of it has) rather than eroded and the air is always flat, calm and a consistent temperature.
The minerals and rock formations at Wind Cave were particularly amazing. Wind Cave is well known for its boxwork formations. Boxwork forms in two steps. First, minerals (usually calcite) forms inside the cracks and fractures of underground rock. Then, when the rock is eroded during cave formation, the sturdier minerals survive remaining frozen in their angular forms.
Unlike a smaller cave where you can see light at all times, Wind Cave is so large that we felt completely isolated. After an hour-plus tour, we were pretty excited to return above ground and continue exploring South Dakota.
Obviously a lot of thought and planing went into designing and constructing Mount Rushmore. However, my favorite part of the world famous national monument is that the tunnels in the nearby area were designed to frame the monument for drivers passing through.
Capturing these shots was not without risk. The tunnels are shorter than they look in the photographs and only 1-car wide. Having to stand in the exact middle of the road to frame the photo correctly meant scurrying off the road like a squirrel in order to avoid becoming roadkill.
I enjoyed seeing Mount Rushmore through the tunnels more than up close. To be honest, this isn’t exactly my kind of tourist attraction (too man-made but not nearly kitschy enough). Arriving at the official monument further frustrated at me. My NPS “America the Beautiful Pass” didn’t count (just cause…I guess) at this NPS site and there was a hefty parking fee. Jessica and I decided (on principle) that the above photo was more than close enough. With that, we were on our way to Rapid City, SD to replace a headlamp before moving on to Badlands National Park.