One of the longest caves in the world, Wind Cave National Park is located 11 miles north of Hot Springs, South Dakota just west off of US Highway 385. Outside of the cave, the park is dotted with the diverse wildlife of the expansive American prairie, and its underbelly has a wild cave with labyrinth-like tunnels. The cave, according to the National Park Service, has more "boxwork" than any other cave in the world. This calcite boxwork appears in honeycomb patterns. Spring and fall weather at Wind Cave National Park are characterized by cool, damp days interchanged with dry, warm days. Winters are mild with little snow, though sub-zero temperatures are possible. The cave’s temperature is on average 54 degrees Fahrenheit around the year.
In 2015, Wind Cave National Park attracted over 600,000 tourists, with over 100,000 visiting the cave itself. Tourists visiting the Wind Cave National Park by road can use 4 separate routes. From Interstate 90 at Rapid City, they take an exit to US Route 79 south, and drive around 50 miles and then turn right onto US Route 385. The US Route 385 takes one through Hot Springs. Then, travelers follow US Highway 385 for around 6 miles to the Wild Cave National Park. Tourists coming from Rapid City can also use US highway 16 South until they get to US highway 385. By turning left towards Hill City, they can follow US 385 south through Custer City. The park is 20 miles south of Custer city, off of US Highway 385, and the road to the visitor center is about a mile south of the junction of US Highway 385 and State Road 87. From western Nebraska, tourists use US Highway 385 North, traveling through Hot Springs to get to the park. Those coming from Custer State Park use state Road 36 and then Highway 87 and turning south. Visitors flying in by air have to land at a commercial airport in Rapid City, and organize connections from there.
On January 3, 1903, US President "Teddy" Roosevelt signed into law the legislation that gave us Wind Cave National Park. Wind Cave was the eighth national park to be created in the country, and the very first to be created in efforts to protect a cave formation. The Wind Cave, which the park was named after, is a geological marvel. It has 130 miles of explored passages, making it one of the world's longest caves. When strong winds rush in and out of it, a distinctive whistling sound can be heard. Cave tours are offered all year round, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's holidays. A Visitor's Center, from where the cave's tours commence, has exhibition rooms with information on cave exploration, cave formations, early cave history, park wildlife, and natural resource management. An 18-minute-long movie about the Wind Cave is also shown all throughout the day. Wind Cave National Park has three nature trails, upon which tourists can go hiking.Tourists can also camp at the Elk Mountain Grounds, which is open all year. The campsite gives a nice view of the diverse plants and animals of the southern Black Hills.
The 28,295 acre Wind Cave National Park is a gem when it comes to havens for diverse flora and fauna. Its is a complex ecosystem, including the mixed grass prairie of the western Great Plains and the ponderosa pine forests of the Black Hills. As a result, there are animal and plant species active here belonging to dissimilar geographical regions. Prairie falcons and meadowlark birds from the grasslands live here alongside nuthatches and wild turkeys from the forests. Bison, elk, pronghorns, mules, deer, coyotes, and prairie dogs are highly visible. 60% of the Wind Cave National Park is open grassland.
Wildlife at the Wind Cave National Park poses the most danger to tourists. Tourists are advised not to get close to them, and they are advised to keep a distance of at least 100 yards from bison, as they can charge very fast. Feeding wildlife is prohibited, as it makes them dependent on handouts, and can hurt their abilities to survive winter and become aggressive when expected food is not given. This unsafe practice can also make the animals wait on jungle trails for humans, where they risk being hit by vehicles. The high grass also has ticks that bite humans. Tours to the wind cave have to be ranger-guided, and can become tiring. They are not recommended to tourists who are claustrophobic, those who suffer from heart or respiratory conditions, or who have had recent surgeries or have physical limitations.
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