Wind Cave National Park - Where the Lakota People Came Onto Earth


Welcome to Day # 206 of our "365 Parks in 365 Days" adventure!


 Ancient of Days...the Lakota Indians recognize Wind Cave as the place where they came onto the Earth. Photo


I woke up this morning to the news of the government shutdown, went up on deck where the dawn was just alighting, and saw a huge Great Blue Heron standing on the dock across from me. It was absolutely still as if waiting for breakfast to swim by, though the river was more than a foot below. I watched in fascination then went down to get my phone and take a picture. As I climbed back on deck it took off, flying low over the water, its gorgeous black tipped wings glowing in the light. So I started my day in thanksgiving to the great spirit that animates life and gives us such beauty to contemplate and enjoy.



WOW!!! I see these birds across the country and each time is like the first time. Photo.


I am totally sympathetic to the tumult the shutdown is creating in so many people's lives, and particularly to my friends in the Park Service and the conservation community. But are we Americans men or mice? WHAT has brought us to this place? And if it's true that in a democracy we get the kind of government we deserve, what does that say about us?

This Facebook post from my friend last night illustrates the chagrin:


"So tomorrow I go to work to shut down my parks, all of this is really stressful as I have a lot of folks who work for me. If we have a furlough then I want Congress to work it out, pass a budget for the whole year and stop holding the Federal workforce hostage!! We do not need them to kick the can down the road so we have to go thru this 3 weeks from now w/the debt ceiling fight, or again at Thanksgiving which the Senate is proposing for round 1 of continuing resolution. Enough already!!!! Pass a damn budget this week and let Govt. workers serve the country!!! All of us!!"


And from my friends at NPCA: National Parks Closed Due to Government Shutdown 


For someone who knows and loves our national parks, forests and wildlife refuges, the shutdown that deprives the public of the opportunity to experience them reflects an unfathomable callousness. Before I could even finish this tour, elements of the park's website began shutting down with the message, Because of the federal government shutdown, all national parks are closed and National Park Service webpages are not operating. For more information, go to Department of Interior.



 Sacred ground - the Black Hills were a stronghold of Native American tribes and the site of defining battles in our Westward Expansion. Wiki Photo.


But you know what? I can turn to the land for solace and inspiration. Every inch of earth on which I place my feet has been here forever and is part of an interdependent ecosystem that has evolved and adapted in place. When I uproot a blade of grass and see how its roots spread and interconnect with all the other blades of grass, and the number and variety of insects I've disturbed, my heart trembles at the thought of the Intelligence that runs this planet. Contrary to the belief of some in Congress, humans are not in charge, and our petty posturing only reveals the levels of our insecurity.


That said, today we are heading to Wind Cave National Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota where Native people have lived in nature with such total respect for such a long time that the air practically vibrates with their spirit. When Frank and I first experienced them on our trip around the country in 1995, we were immediately enfolded in their mystique. As we write in Legacy on the Land:


"...The sooty Black Hills loomed high and craggy, looking like ancient Native American elders who had survived eons in the natural elements. We had read that the Black Hills was a sacred landscape to many Indian nations, and that some regard the Black Hills as the center of the world. The area was so remote, the peaks so towering and timeless, that we could practically absorb their spirituality by osmosis. . ."


We haven't visited Wind Cave yet, and I am excited to learn that the Lakota people hold that it is the place where they entered the world. It is the first cave system on Earth to be named a national park.


 From Wind Cave, bison were sent out to the hunters to sustain ancient people, and their descendants still roam the land in the park today. NPS Photo. 


According to the Park Service:


"American Indian oral history dating back centuries speaks of a 'hole that breathes cool air' near the Buffalo Gap. Regarded as the origin site for the  Lakota people, there are many stories about the role the cave played in their culture and they consider the place sacred.


"One of the stories tell of a beautiful woman, known as the buffalo woman, who came out of the cave and gave the bison to the Lakota people. Sitting Bull's nephew is quoted as saying that 'Wind Cave in the Black Hills was the cave from which Wakan Tanka, the Great Mystery, sent the buffalo out to the Sioux hunting grounds.' "


I was looking for more on this aspect of the story than the website offered, as it moves rapidly into European exploration. It is intriguing to see that " Wind Cave is considered sacred and culturally significant to the Lakota and Cheyenne, and throughout the centuries, many tribal nations lived and traveled within reach of what would become Wind Cave National Park. 


"Located in the southern Black Hills of South Dakota, Wind Cave National Park is bordered by the Black Hills National Forest on the west, Custer State Park on the north. . Wind Cave is the first cave in the world to be designated as a national park.


 "One of the world's longest and most complex caves and 33,851 acres of mixed-grass prairie, ponderosa pine forest, and associated wildlife are the main features of the park. The cave is well known for its unusual geology, outstanding displays ofboxwork, a rare cave formation composed of thin calcite fins resembling honeycombs, and the winds at the cave's entrance. The cave also contains a variety of other cave formations such as popcorn, frostwork, and flowstone. Continued exploration is still occuring as cavers actively search for new passages in this complex maze.


"About the time that the finishing touches were being put on Wind Cave, visitors to the place we call Wind Cave National Park would have seen a completely different world. The geological time period was Oligocene, which extended from about 34 million years ago until 23 million years ago. The Great Plains were just beginning to develop. Dense deciduous forests were becoming open wooded grasslands. The climate was subtropical and very different animals roamed the area.


"Originally signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt on 9 January 1903, the Act 'To set apart certain lands in the State of South Dakota as a public park, to be known as the Wind Cave National Park' created the seventh national park in the United States and the first devoted to the protection of a 'cavern underlying ... certain tracts, pieces, or parcels of land.' Subsequent legislation enlarged the park and expanded its purpose to include the preservation and protection of subterranean and surface ecosystems as well as significant cultural and historical resources.


Boxworth - thin blades of calcite that project from cave walls and ceiling to form 'boxes' - is more numerous at Wind Cave than anywhere else in the world. NPS Photo.


"While many speleothems have formed as water has dripped into the passages, the most conspicuous feature of Wind Cave, boxwork, has probably formed differently. Boxwork is found in small amounts in other caves, but perhaps in no other cave in the world is boxwork so well-formed and abundant as in Wind Cave. Boxwork is made of thin blades of calcite that project from cave walls and ceilings, forming a honeycomb pattern. The fins intersect one another at various angles, forming "boxes" on all cave surfaces. Boxwork is largely confined to dolomite layers in the middle and lower levels of Wind Cave. . ."


Wind Cave National Park shows the Earth's evolution in one discrete area over millions of years. Now think of the people who are being most vocally negative  and filled with hubris on Capitol Hill and consider where we/they fall on this spectrum.


 If you've missed any of our "365 Parks in 365 Days" adventures, find them here  (Archive) Pick up your indispensable copy of "Our True Nature" while you're on my website. If you don't have it, you can't know what you're missing....


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