Among the many natural wonders of this continent is the Wind Cave in Hot Springs, South Dakota – with 136 miles of passages explored (and the possibility of more), it is the fifth largest cave in the world and on this date in 1903, it became our eighth national park.
It has a number of special features, notably a honeycomb calcite formation known as boxwork.
Last fall the Park Service was pleased to announce the addition of 5,555 acres to the park, bringing its total area to more than 33,000 acres. So in addition to acres of grassland, Wind Cave now boasts a 1,000-year-old buffalo jump and a historic homestead. Elk, bison and pronghorn sheep – which are actually antelope – have all been successfully reintroduced to the park.
You can learn more about Wind Cave at the NPS website and if you have the time, do take a look at the memoir by Katie Stabler, a ‘lady’ guide at the park from 1891 to 1902. Ms. Stabler tells the story of her family’s journey west and how she and they became involved with the cave. Her stories are fascinating – here’s a sample:
In 1871, with their three sons, they went out west in a covered wagon where Papa acquired a grant of land from the government at MiddleCreek, Nebr. … The youngest son, only a baby, tumbled out of the back of the wagon while enroute. It was several miles later that they missed him. They retraced their tracks and found that someone had rescued him and were waiting for them.
I’m not sure how many people made the trip to South Dakota to visit the Wind Cave last year, but our 397 national parks in total get about half a billion visits a year – that includes high traffic sites like the National Mall and Mount Rushmore.
The Park Service manages to take care of all our parks with what seems like a skeleton staff of 28,000 people and on a budget of barely $3 billion and they do a fabulous job. Fortunately, a lot of good souls who love nature volunteer time and money to help keep things going.
One of our truly special parks is Grand Canyon, which has always been a target of mining and drilling interests. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has scheduled a press conference today during which, the press release says, “Secretary Salazar will make an announcement regarding conservation of the Grand Canyon..”
An update will be forthcoming.
Update: Secretary Salazar has decided that the 1 million acres of Colorado watershed around the canyon will remain unavailable for mining for another 20 years. House Republicans plan to introduce legislation that will nullify his decision in the next 60 days.