Wind Cave National Park

History: How Wind Cave Was Formed

©2006 National Park Services The lacy boxwork in Wind Cave was created when water carrying dissolved crystals of calcium carbonate seeped through a network of cracks.

Roughly 350 million years ago, a shallow sea covered South Dakota. At that time North America was located on the earth's equator, and its climate was tropical. Gradually, the sea's water level dropped as the land rose and moved north. A layer of sediment grew to a thickness of between 300 and 600 feet.

About 320 million years ago, another sea inundated this area, depositing another layer of sediment several hundred feet thick on top of the first one. The forces that lifted the Black Hills created cracks in these limestone layers.

Over a time span of millions of years, water seeped into these cracks, gradually dissolving the rock and creating the labyrinth of passages and chambers that we see now.

An unusual ecosystem also extends across the land above Wind Cave. This area marks the boundary between the prairie and the ponderosa pine forests of the Black Hills.

The grassland here is inhabited by prairie birds, such as falcons and meadowlarks, as well as nuthatches and wild turkeys that come from the forests.

Exploration of Wind Cave

In 1881, brothers Jesse and Tom Bingham discovered the unique underground realm of wonders that is now Wind Cave. One of the brothers was chasing a wounded deer in a ravine when he heard a loud whistling noise. As he looked down, his hat was blown off his head by a powerful wind blowing directly out of a crack in the rocks.

When Jesse brought people to see the cave's wonders a few days later, the wind had changed, and his hat was sucked into the cave. Everyone who saw the cave seemed to want to develop it for a profit. Several groups, one of them calling itself  the Wonderful Wind Cave Improvement Company, competed for the right to mine the cave and lead tourists through it. In 1903, the federal government ended years of fierce bickering by establishing Wind Cave as a national park. It was the first cavern to be brought into the park system.

Today, it is one of the gems of the national park system. From prairie wildlife to cave formations like you've never seen, Wind Cave National Park offers a unique experience the whole family will enjoy.

©Publications International, Ltd.

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