A good book. I always put a good book on my list of things to take on a vacation. Love it or hate my kindle app has made that so easy and lightweight! I can carry around a few hundred books and take up no more space or add any extra weight. When we left town to head on our That’s WY vacation, I was in the middle of reading Dear Bob and Sue.
A good book can help you pass the time on a long road trip. A good book can transport you to a new place. A good book can teach you something. I am reading Dear Bob and Sue, a book about a couple who visit all 59 US National Parks, I learned there were national parks in South Dakota that I did not even realize. I stopped reading and started studying my map quickly making plans for a day visit while we were in the Black Hills. All because of a good book.
Needles Highway and Custer State Park
We left Rafter J Bar Ranch and drove Highway 16 to Highway 87. Highway 87 is also known as Needles Highway because of the needle-like granite rocks that pierce the sky. The road is very scenic; besides the granite rocks, you will drive past Sylvan Lake, tall pine trees, and through many tight rock tunnels.
Before driving Needles Highway, I had watched many YouTube videos of tourist driving through the Eye of the Needle Tunnel. I knew it was going to be tight, or look like a squeeze, but I knew our truck would make it. I still can’t believe that Wayne let our son, The Boy drive through the Eye of the Needle. Wayne did walk in front of the truck and “directed” The Boy through the entire tunnel! I think we would have been fine, but Wayne made him pull the rear view mirrors in.
I offered to turn around and do it again so Wayne could also drive through it. No one liked that idea but me. Needles Highway is approximately 14 miles long but we took Highway 87 south to Wind Cave National Park, which is just south of the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park.
Wind Cave National Park
One of the many things the Todd’s and Taylor’s have in common is a fascination with cave exploration. So traveling the thirty miles (that took an hour) from our base was pretty much a no brainer. Our goal upon arrival was just to get a tour booked. There are three tours scheduled on a regular basis; the Garden of Eden Tour, The Natural Entrance Tour, and the Fairgrounds Tour. The price range to go on a tour is between $10-12 per person (children are half the price as adults). We booked ourselves for the Fairgrounds Tour which is the longest most strenuous tour offered.
As we were waiting for our tour I noticed a small warning sign that asked visitors who were wearing shoes that had been in another cave to let a park ranger know. Well, I live in my Keens. They are my hiking shoes of choice and I was pretty sure that I had worn them when we visited Onondaga State Park Memorial Day Weekend 2016. So, I did the “right” thing and told a park ranger. As a result, I was treated to a private decontamination process by a park ranger. I was not put out or offended that my shoes needed decontaimination. Caves are fragile systems and I don’t want to be responsible for injury to that system.
Wind Cave is a very large cave that is mostly dry. It is believed to have been an ocean a very long time ago. In fact we were able to see evidence of seashell on the roof of the cave. Those shell fish died and sank to the bottom of the ocean where they get all crunched up from the waves. They filtered down in between the cracks of the limestone floor of the ocean. When the ocean went away, and the cave filled with water full of sulfuric or sulfurous acid begins creating the cave by eating away the limestone. But what it can’t eat through is the remains of the shellfish. Hence the boxwork.
The kids enjoyed learning about Alvin McDonald who was one of the early explorers of Wind Cave. The Park Ranger’s told us how he would explore the cave by candlelight and mapped out the cave. We learned that the letters on the ceiling of the were actually made by Alvin McDonald but using a secret code.
Unfortunately during our tour one of the guest got injured and it was rushed a bit. We did not mind, we used our Every Child in A Park pass to get in free and we had a lot of exploring to do before in the area in a short time. After our tour and before we left we did go and see the original cave entrance. The wind in the cave is constantly changing due to barometric pressure. It is either blowing out of the cave or being sucked in. Early explorers often lose their hats at the original entrance.
The day of our visit the wind was blowing out. And my goodness it was strong. Standing in front of that opening was the coolest place outside of the cave.
There are other above ground activities at Wind Cave. We did not partake in any of them. After a day of exploring rock formations, we headed back to Rafter J Bar Ranch for an afternoon of swimming and relaxing. We choose not to drive back through Custer State Park and take Iron Mountain Road. Instead we took Highway 385 and arrived back at base in a shorter period of time.
If a person was inclined to, Jewell Cave National Monument is only 33 miles from Wind Cave. Jewell Cave is the third longest cave in the world with almost 200 miles of mapped pathways. Advance tickets can be purchased to both Wind Cave and Jewell Cave.
And don’t forget to complete your Junior Ranger program. Our girls loved getting sworn in by the ranger who lead our tour.
We hope you have a great time in The Black Hills. What are your favorite activities?