Getting back to the visitor’s center it was time to determine how we would spend the rest of this day. It was early afternoon and time for something to eat. We traveled to a nearby town and enjoyed a small town restaurant before continuing our explorations of Wind Cave National Park. Returning to the visitor’s center once again it was decided to spend the rest of our time as surface dwellers since there are thousands of acres to explore. A trip to this cave would not be complete without experiencing the natural entrance which was amazingly small with a lot of air movement which is how it was first discovered. Apparently two brothers were passing by and heard a loud whistling. Upon further investigation they found the vast network of caves below that caused this sound due to the attempt at equalizing atmospheric pressure. Since then over a hundred miles of this cave have been discovered. It is estimated that this accounts for only 5% of the entire cave. Try to imagine over 2,500 miles of caves and passageways beneath the surface. That’s the equivalent of driving from Buffalo, NY to Los Angeles, CA!
Once the natural entrance was found we decided to get in the car and drive some of the unpaved roads in an effort to explore some of the prairie protected by this national park. Early on we encountered a pronghorn deer that wanted to play for a short time. We would stop the car and this deer would run ahead of us for a distance staying next to the road and then stop and watch to see what we were doing. We continued forward as this deer decided to wait until we were again next to it. Once we pulled alongside it ran ahead again, stopped, and waited anxiously. Again we drove ahead to meet it only to have this deer run further along the road. This went on a few times before the pronghorn grew tired of the game and left. Our next encounter was single buffalo standing near the road allowing birds to perch on its back. We found this entertaining for a few moments and then continued on. The top of a hill was reached and below waited a breathtaking sight of this never ending prairie. Looking over the grass as it waved in the breeze along with the occasional stand of trees appeared as though out of a painting from a century ago. Over on the hillside rested some animals. They turned out to be a herd of elk resting in the mid-afternoon sun while darker clouds began to roll in indicating a potential storm. There were a couple of hundred elk comprising this herd allowing us to watch from a distance as they lazily meandered about. There were no horns on any of these elk causing us to wonder where the bulls could be. Our day was growing long and we had to return to our hotel in time to catch a wink or two before getting up early to participate in the Independence Day celebration at Mt. Rushmore.
On our way back through Custer State Park we encountered another herd of buffalo. After a few moments of gazing at these grazing animals we moved on. Another few miles down the road we saw the next spectacle – a herd of donkeys. This was a complete surprise as I hadn’t imaged donkeys in the wild. Here they were and demanded another stop to take it all in. They were very friendly and seemed to enjoy our company as much as we enjoyed watching them. Finally, we needed to depart for our journey back to Custer to grab a bite to eat and plan the next day’s activities before falling asleep. This was another in a string of very memorable adventures and once again proves that confronting that which you may fear will help you learn more about that fear.