1959 NSS Expedition to Wind Cave   Report on the Wind Cave Survey

William B. White - Cave Survey
Ruth G. Deike - Topographic Survey

Spring 1961


The basis for any serious cave study is a detailed map. Especially in a cave with the complexity of Wind, maps are necessary both as bases on which to show geologic detail and as indicators of the overall cave pattern. It is thus reasonable that a large part of the expedition's time and manpower were devoted to mapping.

The surveys of the South Dakota School of Mines were included on the preliminary map with the kind permission of Professor Gries. The Colorado Grotto has also given their permission to include their traverses on the map. The final version of the preliminary map was drafted onto linen by John L. Haas Jr. of the Pennsylvania State University.

Previous Surveys

There seems to have been a number of surveys of the commercial part of the cave. At least two distinct sets of survey stations can be found in various parts of the route painted in the ceiling with red paint. A large brush versus a small brush delineated the two. No notes on these surveys were available. The National Park Service has conducted an engineering survey of the commercial cave and a copy of this map was available. The copy of the engineering survey on the Wind Cave National Park leaflet made a useful small map on which the explorers could record their day-to-day findings.

Since 1955, students from the South Dakota School of Mines under the direction of Professor J.P. Gries have been carrying out very precise surveys of portions of the cave using a mining transit. The data of Washburn and Steulpnagel* (1956) and Ballou and Sturgeion* (1957) on the passage to Rainbow Falls and the survey by Coulson and Rosenberg* (1958) of the Fairy Palace Loop has been included on the present map. Colorado Grotto of the National Speleological Society has prepared several traverses of new areas west of the Post Office by Brunton and tape. Their traverses are shown on the map.

The Cave Survey

Wind Cave was surveyed with Brunton compass and metallized tape, the procedure common to most cave surveys in this country. A survey team would be under the direction of the log keeper who recorded all data and made a careful sketch of the passage traverses showing actual passage widths, ceiling heights, location of stations, and various geologic features. A second person operated the compass and measured station to station azimuths and vertical angles. The two other members of the team set stations and chained the distance between them. The precision of this type of survey under ideal conditions is about 1:300. On the average, two or three teams worked in the noncommercial parts of the cave during the day. A team would enter the cave at night to survey on the commercial route.

Surveying was concentrated in the northern part of the cave beyond the Pearly Gates in the complex section of the cave including the Attic and two lower levels with portions of survey extending around the end of the commercial route to the area east of the Three-way Stairs. Bishop Fowler's Loop was surveyed, as was a long canyon passage off the Elks Room and some sections in the Garden of Eden. The Commercial Route was completely resurveyed, although with much less accuracy than the engineering survey, to provide necessary detail and benchmarks for the other surveys.

Those who lead surveying parties were: G.H. Deike, W. Eckel, L.D. Matthews, J.A. Stellmack, W.B. White.

On the commercial route, the numbered lamp posts were found to be ideal bench marks as they were permanent, identifiable and did not require defacement of the cave. These are indicated on the map by the symbol of a circle with an "x" in it if they are tied into the traverse and by the symbol of a circle with a dot in it if they were merely sketched. Bench marks and survey stations were not marked on the cave walls on noncommercial areas. Very few parts of the survey are far from the commercial route and very little re-surveying would be required to tie into a lamp post.

The map was prepared and is presented in preliminary form. Unclosed ends of loops are left open and no attempt has been made to distribute errors. The original map is drawn to the scale of one inch to thirty feet and fits four sheets of linen. It is felt that much more work is needed to complete the survey and that a finished map at this time would be premature.

The map as shown will fulfill the following purposes:

  1. It shows the extent of survey covered by the 1959 NSS Expedition.
  2. The separate sheets, reduced and printed will serve as field maps for future explorers to note their findings.
  3. It will serve as a base on which to plot geological data.

Several closure loops in the survey gave an opportunity to evaluate the precision of the traverse. These are tabulated below.


Error (ft.)

Length of Loop

% error

Bishop Fowlers Loop




Fairgrounds Loop




Blue Grotto Loop




The errors in the Commercial Route Survey are considerably higher than would be expected from the average Brunton and tape survey (ca. 1% or less). There seems little doubt that there was disturbance of the compass from light posts, iron railings, and transformers. Since almost the entire survey is based on the two commercial cave loops, there seemed little value in making a closed traverse on the preliminary map.

Topographic Survey

The topography of Wind Cave National Park is shown on US Geological Survey Wind Cave 7-1/2 minute Quadrangle. The map is presented on a scale of 1 inch = ca. 2000 feet and a contour interval of 20 feet. It is difficult to show detailed cave-to-surface relationships on this scale and thus a more detailed topographic survey of the area overlying the cave was prepared. The topographic map presented in this report covers a roughly rectangular area 2000 feet by 2500 feet. It includes the essential section of Wind Cave directly overlying the cave and includes many surface details such as the dry bed of Wind Cave Creek, the Park Service Buildings, and the entrances to Wind Cave. It is drawn to a scale of one inch equals 40 feet with a contour interval of five feet.

The survey was made using standard plane table and alidade methods. Distances were measured by stadia interval and all data were calculated and plotted in the field. Contour lines were interpreted and drawn on the site. The primary reference point for the survey is the US Geological Survey bench mark located approximately 500 feet northwest of the Park Administration Building and at an elevation of 4124 feet.

The precision of the survey was checked by comparing distances on the topographic map with distances shown between the same objects on the Park Service Engineering Survey of Wind Cave. One such comparison gave an error of four feet in 1360, and a second an error of seven feet in 1492. It should be noted that these are the straight line distances between the two points, while the plane table traverse connecting them is somewhat longer.

Precision in elevation was determined by comparing the elevation of the natural entrance and the elevator shaft measured by the topographic survey with the elevations shown on the engineering survey. Both checked to within one foot. It is a characteristic of the alidade method of survey, that elevations are often an order of magnitude more precise than horizontal distances.

It is felt that the topographic map as presented is adequate both in accuracy and extent for the presently known size of the cave. No further topographic mapping is recommended at this time.


A topographic map of adequate accuracy and aerial coverage was prepared. A cave survey of Wind Cave has been prepared which is sufficient for a base map. The careful sketches and most of the noncommercial route survey are adequate. With a correction of the commercial cave closure loops, and some surveying of other passages, a map showing nearly all of the known portion of Wind Cave can be easily prepared.

Recommendations for Further Work

  1. The Fairgrounds and Blue Grotto Loops should be re-surveyed using a Brunton compass on a tripod and using both front and back sights since this traverse is the backbone of the entire survey. It need not be resketched.
  2. A careful "peripheral" survey should be made. Groups of exploration teams should check all passages leading out of the central core of the cave, note all that need surveying, and sketch in the others showing their terminations.
  3. The traverses made by the Colorado Grotto need to be sketched. Other unsurveyed passage lies in the same area.
  4. A survey must be made of a great unsurveyed remnant lying inside the Commercial Caver loops.
  5. The Garden of Eden is barely touched and needs to be surveyed.
  6. Hundreds of cross-sections need to be drawn for the entire survey. Additional data for drawing longitudinal profiles must be obtained.

*Bachelor's theses presented to the South Dakota School of Mines. Copies are on file with the Park Administration.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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