Because the beautiful weather continued, we decided to head to Wind Cave National Park near Hot Springs, SD, on Wednesday.
Neither Kevin or myself have ever been inside a cave of any size, and what better time to experience it than now (Plus I’ve always wanted to know if I was claustrophobic or not so what better way to figure it out but in a cave).
We booked the 1:20 PM guided “Fairgrounds Tour”. This tour is listed as strenuous and the one with the most stairs, but also with the widest array of features of all the tours. We always want more, so this was the one to book! Definitely not a mistake. It was awesome, and gratefully neither of us are claustrophobic!
The park is not only known for its cave, but also the park land itself and its abundance of wildlife. Wind Cave NP is a relatively small national park of 28,294 acres and is located in an area called an ecotone. This is a place where two or more ecosystems meet. In this particular case, it’s where the mountain meets the plains and the eastern tall grass prairie meets the western short grass prairie. It’s forest and woodlands, mixed grass prairies and other plant communities offering the natural habitats to many different wildlife.
It was mid afternoon, sunny and warm so we took a drive through the paved and one lane gravel roads in search of any diurnal, visible wildlife. The prairie dog communities were many!
They are certainly industrious little creatures and so fun to watch!
Continuing our drive through the park we saw mule and whitetail deer and a large herd of pronghorn.
We also saw from a distance, a herd of buffalo, or Tatanka as the Lakota call them. Because we were on our own self guided tour and without a tour guide’s knowledge of the days possible buffalo hangouts, we didn’t think we’d see any at all. To our surprise we did get some close up views of solitary Bulls. ( But NOT as close up and personal as those in Custer State park in the car without a top). As we were making our way out of the park’s winding and curving road and just as we made one of those sharp curves, right before our eyes were 2 bulls grazing along the side of the road. One with his hoof just about on the road like he was ready to stroll on out there. Now we had the “Beast” (our towing truck), which is large, heavy and high, but I can’t even imagine, nor do I want to, what kind of chaotic nightmare that would have been, meeting that boy head on! Since then we have discussed getting a moose catcher for the front of the truck.
What we didn’t see on our drive through the park was elk. However when we were at the welcome center, prior to our cave tour, we chatted with one of the park rangers who told us that the elk are currently in rut. He said if we come to the park in the early evening and sit somewhere near where the mountain meets the plains, we more than likely will see elk, but that if we didn’t see one, we should still hear their “bugling”. Our plan is to follow up with this bit of information and drive back to the park one evening in an attempt to experience one of these 2 possibilities. That will make Kevin a very happy man as he (as do I-I can’t deny it) wants badly to see elk in its natural habitat. Stay tuned for the outcome of this event!