The Descent

gravel road in mixed grass prairie
Click photo for full 360° experience!

NPS Photo/Adam Gericke

Area Description: This is a lovely stroll through the canyon that earned its name through the finding of Wind Cave. This trail beings a mile or so down the canyon from the cave entrance and visitor center. The trail is a two-track that services the park’s well.

Visible Vegetation: Ponderosa Pine, Common Mullein, Smooth Brome, Chokecherry, Yellow Coneflower, Purple Coneflower, Echinacea, Western Wheatgrass

Possible Animal Habitat:

Mammals: Bison, Mule Deer, White-tailed Deer, Elk, Coyote, Mountain Lion, Prairie Vole, Eastern Cottontail Rabbit,

Birds: Mourning Dove, Common Nighthawk, Says Phoebe, Eastern Kingbird, Cliff Swallow, Red-breasted Nuthatch, House Wren, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Spotted Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Western Meadowlark, Brewer’s Blackbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, American Goldfinch, Great-Horned Owl

Geology: To the north of the trail you will see outcroppings of the Minnelusa Formation. This formation consists of alternating bands of limestone, sandstone, and shale. It formed approximately 320 million years ago.

For Educators:

Thematic Information: A fire burnt the south side of the trail in April 2015. This picture was taken July 21, 2016. The north side of the trail did not burn. In fires, most smaller trees are consumed while the others are left with more sunlight and water leading to healthier trees. It also leads to a greater diversity in vegetation.

Recommended Student Activity:

Observe signs of fire:

Small trees burnt and dead

Brown needles on lower branches of big trees

You can mention how quickly the grass grows back after only a year and three months

Compare and Contrast north and south side of trail.

More mullein (non-native species) on north

More Purple and Yellow Coneflower (native) on south

South side is greener (perhaps because of more nutrients in the soil from fire)

Next Station

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Last updated: September 22, 2016

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Mailing Address:

26611 US Highway 385
Hot Springs, SD 57747


(605) 745-4600

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