Sunday, 6 May 2012

Days 5 & 6: Caves & Badlands

Sadly, it was time to leave wonderful Custer State Park. On our way out, we stopped in at adjoining Wind Cave National Park for a wander underground in the world's 5th longest cave. The Black Hills have a rim of limestone that's studded with caves due to all the fracturing that occurred when the centre granite section of the Black Hills was uplifted. Some, like Jewel Cave (the 2nd longest cave complex in the world, only about 40 miles away), are "wet" caves, with traditional stalactite & stalagmite stuff. Wind is a "dry" cave, made up of a lot of cracks that have had water affect them, but look a little different.

Some caves have a big entrance. Other's don't.
That little hole is it
Fortunately, they built a door to get in. And an elevator to get out. Primary unique feature of this cave? Boxwork, of which 98% of the world's supply is found here.

The boxwork is the lattice like structure dangling from the roof
The cave guide NPS Ranger didn't know much about caves, and a lot of her script was wrong (she was an American History major specializing in Indian studies. Perhaps some geology might have been useful). And though we were underground for over an hour, she barely stopped walking. Still, we liked it, and Wind Cave is also a nice National Park.

From there, we crossed the bald flat prairie to get to the Badlands.
The southern section
The American badlands warrant National Park status; the Canadian ones only get Provincial protection. Ours are nicer, with more colour, and more cool fossils (though they have found sabre toothed cat and alligator and turtles and early deer and early dogs and other stuff here).
The car and KC
Not nearly as colourful as ours

Big deep canyons
The park does have Swift Fox and Black Footed Ferrets, both very rare (no, we didn't see them), rattlesnakes (which everyone we met had seen, but not us), rabbits...
...and meadowlarks. Loud meadowlarks. Lots of loud meadowlarks.
Yelling melodiously, as usual
In contrast to Custer State Park, where we camped under budding oak trees next to a pleasant babbling brook, in Badlands we got to camp under one of the 5 trees in the park -- perhaps because we were one of only 6 occupied sites in the 80+ site campground (2 of which belonged to the campground hosts).
Little campsite on the prairie
The wind was howling in the evening, so I got to practice for flying my kites on Cape Hattaras.
Note the dark foreboding skies
It socked in overnight and at 4 AM we were awoken by continuous lighting flashes that made the sky a constant white (and continuous thunder sounding like a train going by). At 4:30 AM, it started to rain, and it poured for an hour. Our tent only leaked a tiny bit. But this was a taste of things to come.

On our way out of the badlands to our planned overnight stop in Mitchell, SD, we wanted to stop in at one of the newest National Parks, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, which shows off the missile silo of a Minuteman II missile, plus an occasional tour of the underground launch control facility. Unfortunately, the silo was 15 miles west (we were heading east) and the tour was to start so late we would not get into Mitchell at any reasonable hour for dinner. That was a disappointment.

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