Luella Agnes Owen, born in St. Joseph, Mo., was a geologist and author. Her book, along with E.C. Horn's Mazes and Marvels of Wind Cave (1901) were the first books published about Wind Cave. These books, in conjunction with Alvin McDonald's diary, The Private Account of A.F. McDonald, provide the earliest accounts of Wind Cave. Owen's chapters describing early journeys at Wind Cave and western South Dakota are shown here. To read more about other caves in the Black Hills or the Ozarks, the entire text of Owen's book can be found here: Cave Regions of the Ozarks and Black Hills.
THE BLACK HILLS AND BAD LANDS
In order to thoroughly appreciate and enjoy the wonderful caves of South Dakota, which are found within the limits of the Black Hills, it is necessary to have some knowledge of the geological character and history of that peculiar region.
Prof. J. E. Todd, State Geologist, in his "Preliminary Report on the Geology of South Dakota," gives an interesting "Historical Sketch of Explorations" in his state, beginning with the expedition of Captains Lewis and Clark to the upper Missouri regions in 1804-6 to explore that portion of the recent Louisiana Purchase for the government and notify the Indians of the transfer; and including all other important expeditions since that time down to his own official tour of the Black Hills and Bad Lands in 1894. His own descriptions are so concise and graphic as to invite quotation. Of the Hills he says:
"The Black Hills have an area of five-thousand square miles of a rudely elliptical form with its major axis, approximately, north-northwest. Most of this area lies within our state. The true limit of the Hills is quite distinctly marked by a sharp ridge of sandstone, three hundred to six hundred feet in relative height, which becomes broader and more plateau-like towards the north and south ends. This ridge is separated from the higher mass of hills within by a valley one to three miles in breadth, which is known as the Red Valley, from its brick-red soil, or the 'race course,' which name was given it by the Indians because of its open and smooth character, affording easy and rapid passage around the Hills. The junction of the outer base of the Hills with the surrounding table lands has an altitude of three thousand, five hundred to four thousand feet. Within this Red Valley one gradually ascends the outer slope of the Hills and soon enters, at an altitude of four thousand five hundred or five thousand feet, the woody portion of the region. This outer slope varies greatly in width and is underlaid by older sedimentary rocks, cut in almost every direction by narrow deep cañons. This feature covers nearly the whole of the western half of the Hills proper, where erosion has been less active on account of its distance from the main channels of drainage. Usually, from the broken interior edge of this slope or sedimentary plateau one descends a bluff or escarpment, and enters the central area of slates, granite, and quartzites, which is carved into high ridges and sharp peaks cut by many narrow and deep valleys and ravines and generally thickly timbered with the common pine of the Rocky Mountains. Toward the south, about Harney Peak, the surface is peculiarly rugged and difficult to traverse. Toward the north, also, about Terry and Custer peaks, a smaller rugged surface appears; but in the central area between and extending west of the Harney range is a region which is characterized by open and level parks much lower than the surrounding peaks and ridges."
The Archæan rocks which form the core of the Hills mark the center of the various uplifts which have attended their formation and controlled their history. The coarse granite of Harney Peak indicating that, as the central point of the earliest upheaval, and the three porphyries known as rhyolite, trachyte, and phonolite, showing the uplifts of later periods to have had their centers a little more to the north, but the entire area is said to be only about sixty miles long and twenty-five miles in width. It is exceptionally rough and mountainous, and consequently has great charms for the lover of fine scenery. Erosion has only partially denuded the peaks of the sedimentary rocks through which they were thrust up, or by which they were overlaid during the earlier part of several subsequent periods of submersion. The Hills, in these remote times, led but a doubtful and precarious existence, being now an isolated island rising out of a shallow sea, and then, owing to a general subsidence, submerged in the ocean to so great a depth that even Harney Peak is supposed to have almost, if not entirely, disappeared. This up and down motion continued at intervals until the Fox Hills epoch of the Cretaceous Age, at the close of which the sea retired forever from that portion of the country. In the next epoch fresh water work began and extensive marshes were formed, with an abundant growth of vegetation and reptiles. There was also much volcanic violence which resulted in the fine scenery in the north end of the Black Hills, and probably opened the fissures to form Wind Cave, the Onyx Caves in the southern hills and Crystal Cave near the eastern edge toward the north. This was near the close of the Cretaceous Age. But here is a point on which the best authorities who have studied the porphyry peaks, have failed to agree; Prof. N. H. Winchell believing that the intrusion occurred, probably, during the Jura Trias, but as Cretaceous beds, of more recent date, are found to have been distorted by the outflow, it seems that Professors Todd, Newton and Carpenter hold the stronger position and that the later time is correct.
No record of the next geological stage, which was the Eocene, or earlier part of the Tertiary Age, has been found in the Hills, because they were at that time dry land with gently flowing, shallow streams, and consequently no strata were laid down; but they are supposed, through later evidences, to have had a tropical climate and vegetation, enjoyed by large animals of strange new forms. The volume of fresh water afterwards became so great that immense lakes spread over large portions of the west, one of which occupied most of the region around the Black Hills at the beginning of the Miocene, and animal life was more abundant than ever before and of higher orders, many species being the same as are now in existence. The weather became more and more inclement and as the storms increased the erosion of the Hills also increased, and the rivers changed to torrents with deep channels. Earthquakes are supposed to have occurred and also volcanic eruptions.
The Black Hills were now rising steadily, and as the slope of the streams increased, the channels cut deeper, and the fissures now known as caves had long been filled with water.
The most important of the numerous animals of the Tertiary Age yet discovered in the Hills and surrounding region, are the Titanotherium or Brontotherium, similar to our Hippopotamus, the Oreodon, and a small horse having three toes on each foot. A little later in the same Age the horses were similar to those of the present time and of equal size, which proves that the wild horses of the West were not descended from the few lost by the Spanish Invaders. At this time the first lions, camels, mastodons, and mammoths also appeared. The remains of these animals are so abundant in places as to indicate that they perished in herds that were overwhelmed suddenly by great floods, and many, no doubt, huddled together and perished with cold; for with the beginning of the present age the Hills had reached their highest elevation, the inclement weather increased, and the tropical climate suddenly changed to one extremely cold. It was the beginning of the Glacial Period or Ice Age, when a large portion of the United States is supposed to have been covered by a sheet of ice. The ice is believed to have entered South Dakota from the northeast and its drift across the state limited by a line so closely following the present course of the Missouri River that many of us would be inclined to consider it the western bluff. Beyond this line the ice failed to push its way, but the Hills were subject to heavy rain storms that filled the streams and carried large quantities of bowlders and other eroded material, both coarse and fine, down into the valleys and over the lower hills, where much of the moderately coarse can now be seen exposed on the surface, and fine specimens collected without the use of a hammer. The brilliantly colored, striped and mottled agates, and the bright, delicate tints of the quartz crystal, are particularly attractive to the majority of visitors. The beauty of these gaily colored rocks is quite extensively utilized by the inhabitants of the southern and southeastern hills to supply the place of growing plants which are generally denied by the inconvenience of the water supply. The quartzite of the Hills is well crystallized and heavy. I have one beautiful specimen of the dark Indian red variety through which passes a narrow line of pale blue, and the yellow quartzite or jasper sometimes shows dendrite markings. Very great quantities of agates and jasper, mostly in small pieces, but unlimited variety, are to be seen in portions of the Bad Lands, south of the fork of the Cheyenne River, with an almost equal abundance of baculites and numerous other fossils.
The wide expanse of deep ravines and sharp, barren ridges in the Bad Lands is a unique departure from the usual phases of natural scenery that inspire interest and wonder, but no great admiration, until one soon learns that the law of compensation has been strictly observed. The beauty of vegetation denied those desolate buttes and ridges is atoned for by a marvelous abundance of most wonderful crystals of aragonite, calcite, barite and satin spar; each to itself, or two or more combined in beautiful geodes or else arranged in great flat slabs crystallized on both sides of a thin sheet of lime. These slabs are composed of crystals of uniform size and of a pale green tint. But the geodes show some striking combinations of both crystals and colors with an exterior formed like box work, composed of a very heavy dark material said to be a mixture of barium, calcium and iron. The interior may be a bright green or lemon yellow, or perhaps the two in combination, while others yet may be either of these varieties with the addition of flat crystals of almost transparent satin spar. These crystals also occur in masses of the same box-like formation rising just so much above the surface of the barren ridge they occupy as to give it the appearance of a prairie dog town. One hill-top over which an abundance of detached crystals, of the palest water-green tint, has been spread, gave the impression of being covered with crushed ice. This transformation from a richly tropical to a marvelously barren region, was accomplished during the time when storms reigned over the Hills and ice ruled the country to the north and east.
The long slender barite crystals of a bright golden brown color are especially beautiful but are generally seen in the specimen stores, as the deposit is confined to limited areas and the few persons familiar with the locations are not over anxious to introduce the general public.
The fossil remains previously referred to are of course only a few of the most important, but it is remarked as a curious and notable fact that among the fossils of the lower orders of life in the Bad Lands, the heads have not been preserved. On account of scarcity of water it is necessary for parties to carry a supply even when they expect to be in the vicinity of the Cheyenne River and probably ford the South fork, as these waters carry in solution a quantity of alkali that renders them unfit for drinking, although the effects would not be fatal but simply the extreme reverse of pleasant.
No caves have been discovered in the Bad Lands, unless that name be applied to some of the geodes which are really grottoes, they being of sufficient size for a man to stand in. The Black Hills, however, contain some of the most remarkable caves ever yet discovered, of which those of greatest importance are Wind Cave and the three Onyx Caves near Hot Springs, in the southeastern part of the Hills, and Crystal Cave near Piedmont, in the northeast. All of these occur in the Carboniferous Limestone which forms an outer belt around the central mass or core of the Hills and no doubt, as previously suggested, owes its fissures to earthquakes which preceded or accompanied the porphyry intrusions by which in some localities its strata have been thrown into a vertical position.
Wind Cave was discovered in 1881 by a hunter named Thomas Bingham, who being weary of a fruitless chase sat down to rest, and was soon startled by the sound of rushing wind on a calm day; and at the same time by a singular hair-raising sensation, as his hat was lifted from his head and thrown high in the air. He is said to have afterwards declared that although frightened nearly out of his wits, he determined to find the cause of his alarm, and on turning slightly discovered a hole about eight by twelve inches in size through which a roaring wind was issuing from the earth. As his hair maintained the aggressive attitude taken, the recovered hat could not be returned to its usual place, so an hour was spent in laying it across the opening and watching its instant projection into upper space; after which he set out to tell of the wonderful discovery. The announcement, however, was not received seriously and he was assured of the impossibility of the wind blowing through a hill of solid rock, and his brother explained to him that he had been too self-indulgent and consequently imagined the whole affair. A protest of total abstinence failed to inspire confidence, but the brother promised to go the next day to see for himself, and did. The hat was again placed over the opening as before, but instead of taking the expected lofty flight, it was drawn in and has never since been seen: the current had reversed. Soon after this the hole was enlarged to eighteen by thirty inches and the cave entered by quite a number of venturesome persons assisted by a long rope and ample personal courage. No other improvements were made, and only a short distance was explored, until Mr. J. D. McDonald settled on the property in 1890; since which time he and his sons have explored ninety-seven miles of passage and done such extensive work in opening up small passages and placing ladders, that it is now possible for visitors to travel long distances with surprising ease and comfort. The measure of distances in the cave is not by the usual guess-work method which has established the short-measure reputation for cave miles, but is done with a fair degree of accuracy by means of the twine used to mark the trail in exploring new passages. A careful measurement of the twine has shown it to run nine balls to the mile with a close average of regularity, so it is the custom to add another mile to the cave record as often as a ninth ball becomes exhausted.
Wind Cave is twelve miles north of Hot Springs by a good road which offers somewhat meager attractions to the artist, but is more liberal towards the geologist, and especially so in fine exposures of the gypsum bearing Red Beds of the Triassic. Limited patches of it are also exposed in each of the caves, generally carrying small quantities of selenite, which is crystallized gypsum, or in other words, crystallized sulphate of lime. This brilliant red color is so prominent in portions of the Hills, and attracts so much wondering attention in other well known regions of the West, that it would seem an unpardonable neglect of opportunity should we fail to again quote Prof. Todd for an explanation of the cause of the vivid coloring. Commencing he says: "Newton remarks concerning this:4 'A large percentage of peroxide of iron in the red beds, to which they owe their bright red color, bears an interesting relation to the absence of fossils. The material of which sediments are formed is derived, by the various processes of denudation, from the rocks of older land surfaces. Whatever iron they contain is dissolved from the land and transported in a condition of protoxide and some proto salt, such as the carbonate, and the process is facilitated by the presence of carbonic acid in the water. Now iron occurs in these older rocks as protoxide and peroxide, the former of which is soluble and the latter insoluble in water. The peroxide, however, by the action of organic matter, such as is held in solution in boggy waters, may be deprived of a portion of its oxygen and converted into protoxide and thus be rendered soluble. If the iron-bearing water is confined first in a shallow basin and exposed long to the action of the atmosphere the protoxide of iron absorbs the oxygen and is precipitated as an insoluble red peroxide of iron. If, however, plant or animal life be present in sufficient quantities, this oxidation is prevented. In case but little foreign material, clay or sand, has been brought by the waters, the deposit will be an iron ore. In case large quantities of foreign material are deposited from the waters at the same time, there will be produced, in the absence of life, a brown or red clay or sandstone, and in its presence a white or light colored formation containing the iron as a carbonate. We reason therefore from the condition in which the iron is found in the red beds, that there could have been little or no life, animal or vegetable, in the water from which it was deposited. The conclusion is strengthened by the fact of the large quantities of gypsum which are usually derived from the evaporation of saline waters. The degree of saline concentration which the precipitation of gypsum indicates, would be highly inimical to life. The presence of gypsum helps to account for the absence of life, and the absence of life accounts for the brilliant color. The three prominent characteristics of the formation (that is the red beds) are therefore quite in harmony with each other.'" (Geol. Blk. Hills, p. .)
Continuing the subject, Professor Todd says: "Accepting this explanation of the striking red color, the question remains as to how these circumstances, favorable for its formation, were produced.
"This red color is quite common in the whole Rocky Mountain region, not only on the eastern slope of the mountains, but to the various detached members of the system. We must, therefore, look for some extensive condition. If we seek some case in the present, parallel to the one already indicated, we perhaps can find none better than one on the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea, where, because of dry climate and the shallow waters, the deposition of gypsum and salt is now going on. In the gulf known as the Kara Boghaz, which is separated from the Caspian by a narrow strait, the evaporation is so rapid as to produce an almost constant flow from the sea into it. This strait and this gulf give the impression to an unlearned observer that there must be a mysterious subterranean outlet. The water flows in, carrying with it the salt and other soluble minerals. It then evaporates, leaving the salt and minerals behind."
This explanation is calculated to afford particular pleasure to the many visitors to the Garden of the Gods, in Colorado, who seldom receive satisfactory answers to their questions as to the reasons "why." In that much visited spot, however, the great mass of the deposit has been removed by erosion and the curiously shaped remnants are only such portions as were exceptionally hard and consequently withstood the action of the submerging waters.
Having made a considerable stop on the way to Wind Cave, we will now hurry on, but with good horses and a fine day the drive is one of great pleasure. The road gradually rises to higher ground and soon reaches a point six hundred feet more elevated than Hot Springs, with a charming view of hill and valley distances, and the way then continues over the hill-tops. At one point by the roadside a circle of tent-stones still marks the spot occupied by Sitting Bull for a week or more after the Custer massacre, while he camped here and in the security of his commanding position watched the movements of the government troops who were in search of him.
Hot Springs and Buffalo Gap are both included in the wide-spread view. Beside the road and scattered about in all directions are fine specimens of agates and quartz crystal which seem most beautiful and most abundant on the hills in the immediate vicinity of the cave, the crystals being either rose pink, pale green, yellow, white or colorless.
Arriving at the cave, the entrance is not visible, but between the ravine in which it is located and the road, there is the cave office and small hotel, on the ravine side of which an outer stairway leads down to the cave entrance, over which has been built a log cabin.
On account of the precautions taken for the protection of visitors, accidents are so rare that it might almost be said that none occur. Every person is required to register before entering the cave and all returning parties are carefully counted, although they are usually unaware of the fact. They are always accompanied by two guides and others are added if the party is large. No one is, on any account, permitted to wander in advance of the head guide or linger behind the one in the rear.
Within the cabin the immediate entrance to the cave is securely closed, and in order that the door may not be forced from its fastenings by the roaring wind which shakes it threateningly, it opens in, instead of out. This wind suggested the name Wind Cave, and will probably be utilized, at no very distant time, to generate electricity for lighting the cavern.
The wind is strongest at the surface, and a guide goes down first to place lights in sheltered nooks where the force has begun to diminish, about fifty feet below the entrance; and here we light our candles which, if guarded somewhat, are not extinguished unless the current is unusually severe. The balance of the descent of one hundred and fifty-five feet from the surface to the first chamber is easily accomplished.
This would be the least interesting room in the cave if it were not the Bride's Chamber, on account of having once been the scene of a marriage ceremony. But no others are in need of assistance of such romantic nature, as all are curiously and handsomely decorated, with such a charming variety of deposits, artistically massed, combined or contrasted, that every step brings fresh pleasure, and monotony is nowhere.
Passing from this room by a long, narrow passage, in the walls of which are observed many beautiful little pockets of crystals, attention is presently called to Lincoln's Fireplace, a perfectly natural specimen of the old-fashioned design broadly open in the chimney; doubtless just such an one as Mr. Lincoln's good mother hung the crane in and set the Dutch oven before. A little beyond and on the opposite side of the crevice is Prairie-dog town, not a very extensive town, to be sure, but so true a copy that one unfamiliar with the small animal and his style of architecture would afterwards easily recognize both. At one time his dogship was carried away by a too eager collector, but a letter to the suspected visitor brought him home by the next freight.
The Dutch Clock occupies a position on a shelf near by, and all southern visitors greet the Alligator as a familiar friend, as all of us joyfully meet any acquaintance from home.
A long narrow passage, formerly a "tight crawl," but later opened up by heavy blasting, must be traversed before we come to the Snow Ball Room, beautiful with round spots of untinted carbonate of lime, as if fresh soft snow had been thrown by the handful over walls and ceilings, with the additional ornamentation of calcite crystals. In the crevice beyond rises the Church Steeple, diminishing regularly, though roughly, in size, to a height of sixty feet, but not degraded with the little squirming stairway usually seen in Church spires.
The next room is the Post Office, in which we are for the first time introduced to the greatest peculiarity and most abundant formation known to the cave. Being a newly discovered addition to geology it has no scientific name and therefore is simply called box work, because it resembles boxes of many shapes and sizes. The formation of the box work is generally regarded as an unexplained and unexplainable mystery, but a careful study of various portions of the cave shows it in all stages of development and suggests a reasonable theory as to the cause of its origin and variety of development. The volcanic disturbances which have already been discussed as having been responsible for the various uplifts and depressions of the Black Hills region, and also for opening the fissures which gave the cave a beginning, must have supplied the conditions that were necessary to the formation of box work. And these preliminary conditions were merely cracks in the rock. By the violence of earth movement the limestone has been crushed, probably when the land was undergoing depression, prior to the upheaval which opened the great parallel fissures. The varying hardness of the rock, as well as proximity to the surface, would readily account for the difference in size of the fractures, which is from one-half inch to twelve inches; the largest being the most distant from the surface. That this crushing was done before the salt waters retired from the region, which was towards the close of the Cretaceous Age, is sufficiently evident in the fact that portions of the Red Beds show similar fractures with the cracks filled with gypsum, and gypsum, as we have already seen, is a salt water deposit.
After the crushing was done the cracks in the Carboniferous Limestone were filled with water heavily charged with calcium carbonate, taken in solution from the rock, first from pulverized particles, and afterwards by percolation and contact with exposed surfaces. This calcium carbonate was slowly deposited in crystalline form, so that in time the cracks were filled and the crushed rock firmly cemented with calcite seams. But in the meantime the removal of the calcium carbonate had started disintegration of the more exposed portions of the rock, which steadily continuing, finally reduced the porous body between the crystal seams to a soft clay which was gradually dissolved and carried out through small imperfections in the thin crystal sheets, leaving the empty box work as we find it. But where blasting has exposed fresh surfaces, much of the solid limestone carries the box-like sheets of crystal.
The thinnest box work is seen in the upper levels, from which the waters retired soonest, and the heaviest and most beautiful is in the Blue Grotto, on the eighth level where the water remained longest and its diminished volume became most heavily charged. In many places, however, there is another heavy variety known as pop-corn box work, which seems to be an impure lime carbonate not so finely crystallized as the other, but at the time of my visit no explanation had been given of the manner of its deposit; and my own theory that it was not formed under water had nothing to sustain it until, a few weeks later, while visiting Crystal Cave, the work was found in active progress on surfaces occupying every position, and the agent was dripping water. In all cases the original box work has been in thin sheets of calcite, and the heavy varieties are due to later deposits of calcite and aragonite crystals or, pop corn.
The colors are white, yellow, blue and chocolate brown; the last named predominating to a great extent in that portion of the cave most easily traveled by visitors, and forming the ceiling and a part of one wall in the Post Office, where, as has been said before, it first appears. The effect is not dreary as might be imagined, and parties are generally photographed here because one side of the room is white and greatly assists the flash. This is a smooth, perpendicular wall marking the line of the fissure and showing the strata of the rock in horizontal position whitened with a thin coating of carbonate of lime. All visitors are cordially invited to please themselves in leaving cards, letters or papers in this chamber, which is reserved for that purpose, and to refrain from leaving them in other portions of the cave or defacing the walls with names.
Roe's Misery is a long, narrow passage into which, during the early times before its size had been increased by blasting, a large man named Roe crawled to his sorrow. Being larger than the hole he stuck fast, and neither his own efforts nor those of the guides could relieve the situation until a rope was sent for, and having been brought, was securely fastened to his feet, when a long pull and a strong one finally opened the passage. It is told that he claimed to have reviewed all the objectionable acts of his life, by which his friends understood that he occupied the motionless position not less than three weeks.
Red Hall is very nearly described by its name and is quite a showy room, with the bright red walls contrasting sharply with their limited ornamentation of pure white carbonate of lime and pearly crystals of calcite.
Off to one side of Red Hall is a beautiful little chamber called Old Maids' Grotto, probably on account of its trim appearance and ideal location. It is so entirely concealed from the view of those passing on the public highway, that its existence is not even suspected, until special attention is called to its cosiness, and then it is necessary to mount an accumulation of great water-rounded rocks in order to obtain convincing evidence of its actual reality. It is a long, narrow room, shut in by a straight wall sufficiently high for rigid seclusion, or protection, without preventing a glimpse of passing events.
A break in the description is made here for the purpose of inserting a description, written at the author's request, by Mr. E. L. McDonald. He was generally our special guide. He has chosen to describe the route taken by the majority of visitors and therefore the balance of my observations within those limits are omitted.
All who are familiar with those passages and chambers will observe while reading the next chapter that no imaginary attractions are added to the existing facts, but many interesting minor points are missing.
Only such changes are made as were agreed to as the condition on which he would attempt a piece of work so at variance with his usual occupations.
4 U. S. Geological Survey. Geology of the Black Hills. Henry Newton, p. 138.
WIND CAVE CONTINUED.
THE FAIR GROUNDS ROUTE.
At 9:30 in the morning the train bringing health-seekers and tourists arrives at Hot Springs, a beautiful little city nestled in the southernmost foot-hills of the world-reputed Black Hills of South Dakota. The choice of a hotel is soon made, and when located, the new-comers observe the other guests and acquaint themselves with the attractions of the resort. Probably during the day they are approached by the solicitor of the wonderful Wind Cave, who explains that the best way to reach the cave is by means of the coach and four seen at the hotel in the morning, and arrangements are made for the following day. The next morning, seated in the tally-ho coach with strangers who are soon acquaintances, you start on a beautiful twelve-mile drive to one of nature's most interesting sights.
Immediately after leaving town you begin to admire the scenery and enjoy the cool, refreshing breezes, wafted from the mountains to the north, down the slopes to the arid plains.
After climbing a gently sloping 'hog-back' for about eight miles, you are at the top of the divide and one thousand feet higher than Hot Springs, which may be seen on the left. Looking ahead you can see Harney Peak, the highest mountain in the Black Hills district; and on the right you see Buffalo Gap, through which the creek runs that heads at Min-ne-pa-juta Springs. The Indians used to drive buffalo through this gap, hence its name. A small but thriving little town to the eastward takes its name from this Buffalo Gap. From here you begin to go down a gentle and winding incline to the cave, which is reached all too soon.
At the office you register and procure tickets, and then have from one-half to three-quarters of an hour in which to eat lunch or dine at the hotel. Then all congregate in the office, from whence the start is made, after every one has put on a cave cap, not a suit, as such is entirely unnecessary. The guide leads the way to the entrance of the cave which is separated from the office by some little distance, and is located in the bed of a long since dry run, which in former times has bared the carboniferous strata, and within this kind of rock the cave is found.
As the author has asked me for an article descriptive of the cave, I will only attempt to say something of our medium length route to the Fair Grounds, or in other words, the Fair Grounds' Route. A collective description of the whole cave would take months—even years—to complete. Besides, the above route is the one most used by visitors at the present time.
On entering the Cave House (a log structure) you will in all probability ask from whence comes the murmur of a waterfall. The guide answers that it is the rushing current of air at the mouth of the cave, sometimes in and sometimes out. Prof. J. E. Todd, in bulletin No. 1, S. Dakota Geological Survey, p. 48, says: 'This phenomenon is found to correspond with the varying pressure of the barometer, and with its single opening and capacious chambers is easily accounted for.'
The rushing air is sometimes strong enough to require a man's weight to open the entrance door. Five days and nights is the longest time the wind has been known to move in one direction without ceasing. This is one of nature's greatest atmospherical phenomena.
Some one says, 'Tickets, please!' and into the hole we go, single file down a lighted passageway to where we can light our candles. After descending about one hundred and fifty-five feet we come into the Bridal Chamber (named by some of the earlier explorers before the present management took hold of the property), which is eight or ten feet in length by twenty feet in breadth. Passing along some distance, the Snow-ball Room is entered. It carries this name on account of little rosettes of carbonate of lime sticking to the irregular ceiling. This room is pretty narrow and some fifty feet in length.
The Post Office is next and soon reached. The ceiling is covered with the box work formation somewhat resembling Post Office boxes. You will no doubt wonder why it carries such a common name.
Just because after searching in what books on geology and other sciences we could get, we could not find it described nor any formation resembling it; hence its common name, as we have named the pop-corn work, frost work etc., from their appearance.
The dimensions of the Post Office are some eighty feet in length by twenty feet in width, with an average ceiling height of probably twelve feet. Red Hall is the room next in order, and has on either side a red bank of sandy, micaceous clay.
Just to the left is a very pretty little grotto of box work. This room is very odd in make-up. The floor is very rough and dips about fifteen feet in its length of sixty feet, and includes a short flight of stairs. The lowest end of the room is prettily decorated, and some pleasing blends of color attract the eye. To the left is the Old Maids' Grotto, a pretty little nook that would please any maid old or young.
After passing through the White Room we turn to the left along the crevice, and after traveling some little distance reach The Grand Opera, a very narrow room but some forty feet in length. Chopin's Nocturne is a small grotto in the right hand wall named by the famous violinist, Edouard Remenji.
The Devil's Lookout is reached by a few steps. It is a crevice about ten feet wide at the base and sixty-five feet in height. This place is remarkable for its columns of rock just over head. The pathway leads to Milton's Study, some fifty feet distant. Turning into the crevice again, some twenty feet are traveled when attention is called to Seal Rocks. Sampson's Palace is the next room in order: here we see some stalagmitic water formation on the left wall and the ceiling is one of the most beautiful yet seen on the trip.
We pass along to Swiss Scenery, a very prettily decorated room fifty feet in length by fifteen in height. The box work is very pretty, shading from yellow to dark brown. The general appearance of the room would suggest its name, it being rougher than any other in the immediate vicinity. Passing under an arch we enter the Queen's Drawing-room. Here the box work has been developed beyond any on our pathway thus far. From the ceiling it hangs like draperies and on the left wall is about twenty-four inches in depth. On the whole this room is elegant enough for the most exacting queen. We step from this room into the M. E. Church. Rev. Mr. Hancher, President of the Black Hills Methodist College, was I believe the first to hold song and prayer service in this room; the pulpit is on the left as you pass through. The guides always ask if any wish to sing or worship, as any one has a perfect right in a dedicated Chapel.
The Giant's Causeway is only a few steps beyond. This bit of scenery has some resemblance to the famed basalt attraction on the coast of Ireland. We 'duck' our heads under the Arch of Politeness and rise to a standing position in Lena's Arbor, a very irregular shaped room admired by a great many of our visitors.
We enter Capitol Hall at the side, about midway between the ends. It is the largest room yet visited, being some two hundred feet from end to end, with a very high ceiling. Here we notice the walls and ceiling are bare of box work and other formation, and are clean and white. The decorative appearance exceeds any room yet visited. After getting into line again we go down a flight of stairs to Odd Fellows' Hall, a chamber that on examination suggests its name. In the ceiling is situated the 'All seeing eye,' one of the emblems of that august body, and at a little distance the 'Three links;' also in the ceiling, and just under the latter is situated a rock very much resembling a goat. Attention is called to the first appearance of pop-corn work, a very peculiar formation resembling pop-corn after it has broken open, and in this part of the cave it is quite plentiful.
We now descend another flight of stairs into Turtle Pass, where a large turtle rests beside the path, and just beyond is the Confederate Cross-roads, where the fissure is crossed by another forming a cross with perfect right angles. The right hand passage is used for specimens only; straight ahead leads to the Garden of Eden, the end of our shortest route; we take the left hand path and journey through Summer Avenue, some seventy feet in length, and reach the Scenes of Wiclow, a large and high room, beautifully decorated with box work and pop-corn. The ceiling and the left wall from floor to ceiling are fine box work. On the right you see dark space, as a very large portion of this room is unused, but we pass the Piper's Pig. List! The guide is pounding on the Salvation Army Drum, a large projecting rock that on being struck with the closed hand gives a sound very much like a bass drum.
After walking across a short plank we enter Kimball's Music Hall, a very beautiful room settled between two crevices and lined with box work. Viewing the ceiling from the fissure on the right it is seen to be smooth and fringed with pop-corn. In some places the boxes are closed, resembling finished honey-comb. Over head box work can be seen as high as the light penetrates. On the whole, I think this is the finest crevice in the explored cave.
Looking straight ahead you wonder how the party can travel over such a road as presents itself to view, but the guide turns into an arch in the right hand wall and enters Whitney Avenue. After walking across the bridge over shadowy depths, our pathway lies for some fifty feet in one of the most interesting ovens in the cave, at the end of which we enter Monte Cristo's Palace by going down a flight of stairs. This room has the greatest depth beneath the surface of any of the Fair Grounds' Route, which is four hundred and fifty feet. In this room is noticed a decided change in the box work, which is much heavier than any seen, or that will be seen on this route, and the color is light blue.
I guess I will give the party a talk while we rest under Monte Cristo's Diamonds, a very sparkling cluster, about six inches in diameter, of silica crystals.
After studying the cave, it appears that it did not form in the same manner as most others; on account of the absence of sink holes, the regular arrangement of the chambers, the regular dip of the rock to the south-east from five to ten degrees, and the regularity of the long vertical fissures running north-west south-east. In fact, the whole cave is made up of these fissures and it seems that the water has entered narrow crevices opened by some eruptive force.
You see small holes eaten in the ceilings and walls in every direction, which indicates that the water came from a higher level, and being under great pressure, wanted passage out. It seems the cave was a reservoir for a long time, then after the water stopped flowing in it slowly receded, and in settling the overcharged waters covered the rocks and specimens with a calcareous coating, very thin in the upper portions of the cave and getting thicker the deeper you go, giving evidence as you see, of slowly settling. Had the waters rushed out they would in all probability have left the rocks uncoated as in all other caves, with one exception, the Crystal Cave, some seventy-five miles to the north of Wind Cave.
As we have some more caves to see we must journey on.
Taking one last look at Monte Cristo's Diamonds we pass into Milliner's Avenue, a very pretty avenue indeed with nearly as many colors as a milliner's show-window would present. About mid-way of this avenue we cross the bridge over Castle Garden, a room in the eighth tier beneath the surface. From this avenue we step into the Assembly Room. Here the formations are covered with a gypsum crystal that sparkles with wonderful brilliancy. On the right is a passage leading to the Masonic Temple, a room that any body of Masons would be proud of could they hold lodge meetings in it. The passage on the left is the terminus of the Pearly Gates' Route, the longest developed route in the cave. After moving along some distance we see the Bad Lands, and then come into the Tennis Court. This room has the net in the ceiling and I suppose the party can furnish the raquet (racket). On the right hand side of this room there is tier upon tier of box work; looking to the left, you shudder at the almost bottomless pit just beside the pathway. Here we take a rest preparatory to climbing up to the Marble Quarry, a task of two flights of stairs. This is a very large room and has the most uneven floor, ceiling and walls of any that our visitors see, and is barren of specimens excepting in the first part over the stairs where there is some box work of very pretty structure and color. Some distance up the path we see on one side the Ghost of 'She,' and on the other the Devil's Punch Bowl, a large rock with a basin-shaped hole about thirty-six inches across and sixteen inches deep, but lo! the bottom has been broken out: which is very appropriate as South Dakota is at present a prohibition state. A winding path is followed until attention is called to the Sheep's Head above an arch over the passage, and the ceiling here is of flint, the ledge of which is four inches thick.
Passing under the arch we enter Johnstone's Camp Ground, so named because Paul Alexander Johnstone camped in this room while accomplishing the third of his greatest mind-reading feats, during which he remained in the cave seventy-two hours. He was locked in his room at the Evans Hotel while a committee secreted the head of a gold pin in the cave. On their return, after being blindfolded, he led them to the livery stable, and securing a team drove to the cave and found the pin in the Standing Rock Chamber, beyond the Pearly Gates, and then drove back to the city still blindfolded.
Down one short flight of stairs and we are in the Waiting Room, so called on account of persons waiting here while the rest of their party finished the trip by climbing up the Alpine Way. This difficult climb was made until the route was developed via the Marble Quarry. A steep pathway and one flight of stairs now bring us to the Ticket Office, and another short stairway leads into the room above, which is the Fair Grounds. We enter the right wing, which measures two hundred and six links in length and forty-nine in width at the narrowest place. We are now in the third level and no box work is seen, but the ceiling (which is low) shows many interesting fossils. The central dome is some fifty feet in height, and passing to the right the guide seats the party in such a position that the frost work on the wall can be seen to advantage. This is the largest part of the Fair Grounds and measures six hundred and forty-five links long, exclusive of the right wing, and has a width of fifty-three links, which with a number of wings added, makes it one of the largest under-ground rooms within American caverns.
A great many visitors look at their cuff-buttons when told we have twenty-five hundred rooms included in ninety-seven miles of passageways. Of course they do not understand how we get the mileage. In going to the Fair Grounds we travel about three miles. In each fissure there are eight levels, which makes twenty-four miles of cave from the entrance to the Fair Grounds.
Of the formations in the cave, the different kinds are on different levels, the stalactites and stalagmites nearest the surface on the second, the frost work on the third. This formation is in most instances as colorless as snow. The mode of its formation is not thoroughly understood, but is found in such positions as suggest its being formed by vapors overcharged as spoken of about the water. It is almost always on an over-hanging rock, over or near some fissure leading to a deeper portion of the cave. Box work in this level is scattering and fragile: in the fourth it is the prevailing formation: in the fifth it is heavier and a little darker; in the sixth it varies in style and color, and pop-corn appears, a queer formation resembling pop-corn ready to eat. It is not so purely white here as in the lower levels, seventh and eighth. In the seventh the box work is heavier than any seen on the Fair Grounds' Route and the color is nearly blue, having a faded appearance. In this tier is also found a good deal of mineral wool, which must not be mistaken for asbestos. It sometimes attains a length of eighteen inches and at one place where it seems to come out of a hole two inches in diameter, and drops down like a grey beard, we have named it Noah's Beard.
In the eighth tier we find very beautiful formations of carbonate of lime, and the box work is decidedly blue, the boxes larger, and their partitions one half inch thick.
We have been deeper than the eighth tier but in narrow crevices barely admitting a man of average stature. In these the calcareous coating is much thicker than in any higher portions of the cave, but very little sign of box work is seen.
Sometimes we make a comparison between the cave and a sponge. Take for instance a sponge as large as an apple barrel and there would be holes in it as big as a man's thumb and closed hand. Now take a sponge, four miles square and five hundred feet deep with holes in proportion to the little sponge, and you have an illustration of The Wonderful Wind Cave, of Custer County, South Dakota.
WIND CAVE CONTINUED.
PEARLY GATES AND BLUE GROTTO ROUTE.
A very much longer, more beautiful, and also more difficult journey than the one just described may be taken by those in whom the desire to see is greater than the fear of fatigue, or possibly, some little danger. With this object in view the Fair Grounds' Route is followed through Monte Cristo's Palace and into Milliner's Avenue. Here we leave it by dropping off the bridge into a rough hole, which proves to be a passage descending into Castle Garden directly beneath the Avenue, and a room of considerable size, plentifully supplied with bowlders. Although interesting to visit, it has no points of such special merit as would seem to require a detailed account, the main importance attaching to it being the fact that it is the first portion of the eighth level visited. A little beyond, however, is something quite new. The floor is covered with a light yellow crust of calcite crystal, sufficiently strong to bear the weight of a limited number of guests without much fracture. It generally gives a hollow sound when struck, which is easily accounted for as there are small holes noticed by which steam evidently made its escape, and through these cavities can be seen but they are shallow. One place shows the crust broken up and with the edges of the pieces overlapped, like ice broken by a sudden rise of back-water, and in this position they have been firmly cemented.
This is where the slowly receding waters of the cave lingered in shallow pools above the small crevices long after the main portions had become dry. That the crust was formed on top of the water, instead of beneath its surface, has been proved by the only body of water now standing in the cave. This is called Silent Lake, and being situated on another route will be described in its proper place, but when discovered no water was visible nor its presence even suspected until the crust gave way under the weight of an explorer. The thin sheet of yellow calcite crystal thus broken was the same as that seen in great abundance in the now perfectly dry eighth level. The gradually decreasing volume of water has left a smooth yellow coat on portions of the walls where irregularities or slopes were favorable, and at least one such place is vividly remembered if once seen. A steep incline of about fifteen feet leads to a small oval hole through the wall; towards this we crawled with no great ease; but getting to the hole was far easier than going through it into a tiny cubby not high enough to sit comfortably upright in, and too small to permit an average sized human being to turn around. Close on the left it is shut in by another wall pierced by two holes similar to that just passed, and each revealing a miniature chamber scarcely more than three feet in either direction and eighteen inches high. Being directed to examine the ceiling of the first, it was done with some difficulty and much satisfaction, for there in the center was a most exquisite bit of art work, a circular disk of "drusy" quartz about twelve inches in diameter and having the appearance of a flat rosette of fine black lace, in open pattern with small diamonds thickly strung on every thread; a brilliant, sparkling mass of gems. After Mr. McDonald had carefully removed a geode from the other little chamber, he slid down into a fourth, the last of the diminutive suite, having sufficient height to allow a sitting posture with raised head, and opened the small jewel case, while I examined the place it came from. Here all was calcite crystal heavily massed in various forms, and a harmony of blue and brown, with half a dozen round, unbroken, perfect geodes hanging from the ceiling like oriole nests. The geode taken proved on opening to be especially fine, being filled with pearly white calcite crystals of both the dog-tooth and nail-head forms, and was kindly presented to be added to the collection of cave specimens already purchased in town, to which were also added handsome pieces of "drusy" quartz, cave coral, and tufa and mineral wool.
Following the guide I now slipped down into the larger nook just vacated, and saw with considerable chagrin that the next step was down a perpendicular wall more than ten feet in height, facing a high, narrow fissure, the floor of which was merely two shelves sloping to an open space along the middle, almost two feet wide, with the darkness of continuing crevice below. Further progress seemed absolutely impossible. All things are, however, possible to those who will, and it had been willed to pay a visit to the grandest portion of Wind Cave. In order to do so the descent must be made and was. Then some little distance must be traveled along the crevice, but the angle of elevation taken by both sides of the bisected floor served as a sort of prohibitory tax together with the calcite paving, since to maintain an upright position on such a surface would require long training of a certain professional character. That difficulty, too, was overcome by placing a foot on either side of the open crevice; the first consideration, of course, being safety and not grace.
We now came to the enjoyment of the reward of merit. Flooded with the brilliant white light of magnesium ribbon, the crevice walls could be seen drawing together at a height of sixty-five feet, and both composed entirely of larger box work than any seen before and very heavily covered with calcite crystal, colored a bright electric blue and glowing with a pearly lustre. This is the Centennial Gallery, and leaving it with reluctance we passed on into the Blue Grotto to find it finer still. It is somewhat wider and higher, while even the extremely rough, uneven floor shows no spot bare of heavy box work of a yet deeper blue.
The wonderful beauty of this Blue Grotto necessarily stands beyond comparison because in all the known world there is nothing like it. The forms of crystal are chiefly aragonite.
From here we pass to the "Chamber de Norcutt," which would be considered a very handsome room if it had no superiors: and the same can be said of Union College, in which, however, is the Fan Rock to claim special notice; an immense piece of fallen box work shaped like a lady's fan half opened.
An imposing vestibule leads into the extensive but rather dreary Catacombs, from which we crawled through a little hole into the M. W. A. Hall, emerging at the top of a steep but not high slope covered with the smooth yellow crust of calcite encountered at other places, and in trying to make a dexterous turn so as to go down feet first, the descent was accomplished with uncalculated suddenness and an unsought but liberal collection of bruises. This, however, was not a happening of the unexpected and could have no attention amid scenes of wonder and beauty, and we were close to the Geysers. From a scientific point of view this is the most important portion of the cave, for here is an indisputable proof that the water in the cave was hot and that it was subject to geyser action. The surrounding region is covered with the crust already described, and at the top of a gentle elevation is thrown up in the unmistakable form of geyser cones; there being two near together on the surface described, with a third visible through one of these on a slightly lower level, this one being a new discovery, as it had escaped observation until we called attention to it.
These small cones show that after the degree of heat and the volume of water had become reduced to the merest fraction of their former greatness, they continued their accustomed work here in the depth of the earth long after the once grand old geyser had ceased to show an outward sign of life. When the water finally became so reduced even here that the steam could no longer force it through, or to these latest vents, the last rising vapors fringed their edges with a beautiful snow-white border of crystallized carbonate of lime as fine and soft as a band of swan's down, which it resembles. In the pure, still atmosphere of the eighth level, almost five hundred feet beneath the entrance, this silent proof of ancient action will endure for the admiration and instruction of many generations yet to come. Few mortals will ever be honored with memorials so lasting or so convincing of vanished power.
Proceeding on the journey the next chamber is the A. O. U. W. Hall, a large, irregular room, by the rise of which a return to the seventh level is accomplished; and the next entered is the Tabernacle, not at all resembling the last, although a similar description would be correct.
Now is reached what many consider the cave's greatest charm, The Pearly Gates. And marvelously beautiful it certainly is.
Approaching by a slightly lower level, we see a gateway opening between large rocks that light up with the soft lustre and varied tints of mammoth pearls. A wonderful effect is produced by the white calcite crystal spread in unequal thickness over the dark surface of the encrusted rocks. Just without the gate is a short but not golden stairway leading to it, and immediately within is the Saint's Rest, a chamber of moderate size beautified by another great rock on which are combined the warm, pearly glow of calcite and the cold glitter of frost by the later addition of lime carbonate vapor-crystals to the calcium carbonate aragonite.
Next beyond is the chamber containing the Standing Rock behind which Mr. Johnstone made his famous discovery of the concealed pin-head. It is an immense great fallen rock on whose dark surface are scattered transparent flake-like crystals of satin spar, resembling the congealed drops of a summer shower. The mind-reader entered the chamber by the way we shall leave it.
Returning to the spot from which the Pearly Gates were first viewed, we stand facing the most beautiful of this imposing group of brilliant scenes, The Mermaid's Resort. This is a small cove with wave marks in the white beach sand, above which rises a projecting, sheltering cliff as purely white as freshly fallen snow, with a fine deposit of frost work in thick moss-like patterns two and three inches deep.
This crystalline mass, so white and fragile, has to perfection the appearance of hoar-frost about a steam-vent in extremely cold weather, and was, no doubt, formed in a somewhat similar manner. It is crystallized carbonate of lime, and could have been deposited in such extremely delicate forms only by the heavily charged vapors rising from hot water. No one needs to be told that hot water will take and hold in solution a much larger quantity of solid matter than is possible to cold water, with all other conditions the same; nor is it news that a portion of the solid substance is carried off in the rising steam. Now the geyser cones, so recently visited on the next lower level, prove both the heat of the water and its heavy charge of solids, which gave it a far more intense heat than pure water could have equaled, and this in turn drove the steam to greater distances than otherwise it would have reached. When cooled to such a point as to be reduced to a light vapor, its movement was checked by various walls, projections, and ceiling as were in its upward path, and these received the minute particles of burden, while the somewhat brisk motion of the atmosphere, occasioned at these points by the mixing of that of higher temperature from below with the lower from above, is responsible for the dainty and varied forms assumed by the fragile structure.
Once more resuming the journey, we admire the rugged charms of University Heights, a somewhat larger and higher room than the next, St. Dominic's Chamber, but perhaps not more interesting than the Council Chamber, which besides other attractions is to some extent also a Statuary Hall. From the Council Chamber the Alpine Way leads up into the Fair Grounds directly above. This Alpine Way is a sort of cork-screw twisting through the rocks, not unlike a badly walled well, assisted at the lowest portion by a short and nearly perpendicular ladder. Next is the Assembly Room, or Crown Chamber, as it is also called on account of a handsome crown conspicuously placed. This room also contains a Moose so perfectly carved that the skeptic who searches diligently for imperfections finally clamors for the whole company to celebrate his discovery of the artist's noble skill.
Leaving this room we re-enter Milliner's Avenue and soon cross the bridge from which, a few hours ago, we descended into the eighth level by way of Castle Garden; and now the return to the surface is by the route followed before, and we arrive there at last terribly weary, but more than well pleased.
WIND CAVE CONCLUDED.
GARDEN OF EDEN, THE GLACIER, AND ICE PALACE.
There is yet another long and charming line of travel open to those who have sufficiently steady heads and light feet to suffer no loss of confidence or depression of spirit when mounting the steep stairway whose limit seems lost in the dark distance above.
There being but the single entrance, a repetition of the worn and ancient statement that all roads lead to Rome, means that many journeys may be taken in Wind Cave, but all must have the same beginning.
In the tourist season the guides have not time during the day to bring out specimens to supply the demand, so on this account night trips are of frequent occurrence; and on these occasions the number of persons in all that vast space seldom exceeds half a dozen, but their voices and laughter, and the blows of their hammers, can be heard at greater distances than would seem possible, and give an agreeable sense of companionship; yet the voice does not travel by any means so far as in other caves.
The evening we were to make the long trip just mentioned, our guide being ready before any others had gone in, we started the advance on the ninety-seven miles of enclosed, unoccupied space and had almost reached the level of the Bridal Chamber when he remembered a forgotten and necessary roll of magnesium ribbon, for which it was needful to return to the office in the upper building. I sat down on the lowest step of the great stairway to wait, and for a very short time was entirely alone in the largest cavern in the world, excepting the Mammoth Cave of Kentucky.
The unexpected experience seemed suddenly to become one of the great events of a lifetime, and was unmarred by the disturbing apprehensions of any possible danger. The entire absence of sound was indescribably awe-inspiring as
"Strata overleaping strata from the center to the crust,
Rose, Alp-high, in molten silence, as the dead rise from the dust;"
but the feeling of complete isolation from the living world would not require an unlimited time to merit the one word—horrible. Even some peril with ample companionship would be more agreeable, while it is a curious fact that the combination of companionship with silence is charming. On the occasion of one visit to the cave it was painful to observe the actual suffering of a lover of quiet, from the good-natured, but heedless, chatter of two of the party.
Presently steps on the stairs broke the stillness, a glimmer of light pierced the intense darkness that surrounded the circle of one candle, and the upper world seemed not so far away.
The interrupted journey was resumed, the route being that already described as far as the Confederate Cross Roads, where, this time, we go straight on in the main fissure instead of turning into the cross-crevice, as was done before.
We were overtaken by the specimen party and recognized the three laughing young girls only by their voices, as in full suits of overalls and white duck caps, they looked like boys. Those who reside near the large caves have overcome their objection to this costume, as it gives much greater freedom and ease of movement, besides being a decided economy. Feminine garments are so easily destroyed, but for artistic effect the substitute cannot conscientiously be recommended.
Beyond the Cross Roads the first chamber is Breckinridge Gallery, a long, rambling hall in which are combined the attractions already passed and those yet to come, but having no striking feature predominating to give special character other than the grandeur of extreme roughness, which is also the quality most observed on passing into the Stone Quarry, where great accumulations of blocks seem waiting preparation for shipment.
The next "open country" is protected from public trespass by the Garden Wall, which appears to have been well built in the long ago by masons properly trained in their craft, and extends, at a uniform height, to the Fallen Flats, where the floor is covered with slabs of enormous size that have fallen from the ceiling since water occupation ceased, as is clearly shown by the sharp edges and surfaces entirely unworn.
The journey now becomes more interesting as the Cliff-Climbers' Delight is reached, and we go steadily up the long nights of stairs until visions of St. Peter begin to rise and we wonder which way the key will turn. Near the top is a handsome growth of snow-white mold hanging in long draperies behind the ladder or spread like on asparagus fern flattened against the rock.
Arrived at the top limits of the stairs the ascent is by no means finished, but continues through three large chambers known as Five Points, the Omaha Bee Office—named by one of the staff of that well known journal—and the W. C. T. U. Hall, dedicated to the service of the organization by one of its workers.
At last the upward journey is ended at the Silent Lake in the first, or highest, level. This, as has already been observed, is the only body of water now standing in the cave, and is not more than ten feet long by six in width and twelve inches deep. The scanty volume is maintained by the very limited inflow of acidulated percolating water which reaches the small receiving basin charged with calcium carbonate; and being cold, the charge is being precipitated on the bottom instead of forming a crust over the surface as in former times when the controlling influence was a degree of heat sufficient to sustain solid matter without disturbing motion.
Rising above the Silent Lake is the Glacier, its moist surface suggesting that the lake is fed by a slight thaw, while the perpendicular front at the water's edge gives the impression of a berg having recently broken off and floated away.
The Glacier flows between two high walls of dark rock, and the steep incline of perhaps seventy feet, covered with a smooth deposit of calcite and shining with moisture, has the appearance of ice and is as uninviting for a climb. The top is connected with the roof above by a group of short, and for this region, heavy columns of dripstone, the oldest formation of that character in the cave.
An occasional overflow of the lake passes out to one side, then turns and goes under the Glacier where its first few feet of descent are called the Pearl Beds, where a variety of water-polished pebbles are being coated over and cemented together with calcite crystal.
From the Glacier down to the lowest level of the cave by another route than that taken for the ascent, there is abundant evidence that at one time this portion of the cave was subject to excessively violent activity, and if studied with a view to the penetration of the principle of geyser action, offers many interesting and valuable suggestions that can be added to and expanded into definite theories in connection with the balance of the cave; all important requirements are clearly shown.
At a short distance from the Glacier is a small circular dome, called the Picture Gallery, which evidently was shaped by water forced up from below. The descent from here takes us into the St. Louis Tunnel, a long rough passage leading down into the great Cathedral, by the still descending irregularities of which we finally reach the Garden of Eden, the objective point of a favorite tourist route, but usually approached from the opposite direction. It is a large chamber of very irregular shape, with an extremely uneven ceiling, dipping nearly to the floor and rising suddenly to distant heights, while every portion of all the varied surfaces glitters with a mass of frost work in every form it is known to have assumed; the banks of orange buds in different stages of expansion being exceptionally handsome. A portion of this wonderful room especially admired is Cupid's Alcove, where the frost is tinged with a pinkish flush from the brilliant paint clay captured in minute particles by the vapors.
The whole room is a marvel of loveliness, but unfortunately visitors have wrought such noticeable damage that wire screening must be placed before the general admittance of large parties can be resumed.
Passing out and down to a lower level, by way of Jacob's Well, we find the source of that magnificent abundance of frost work to be in the Chamber of Forbidden Fruit, where a yellow calcite floor-crust indicates the surface level of water diminishing in volume by evaporation long after the upward flow had forever ceased, and from which the rising vapor ascended to decorate the Garden of Eden, just described. But since this water completely disappeared, leaving in evidence only the record-bearing crust, a percolating drip has prepared indisputable proof of the remote distance of that time by depositing on the crust great clusters of luscious fruits, chiefly cherries, which appear to have been carelessly tossed down in heaps, but are firmly fixed in place.
The onward journey continues up and down through Beacon Heights, a large chamber which imitates Rocky Mountain scenery and terminates at the Corkscrew Path which, as the name indicates, is a spiral path winding down like a great stairway against the wall of an approximately circular chamber which is perhaps the highest in the cave, and shows the most violent water-action. The plunging torrent rushed on from here to tear out the heavy rock and form the next chamber, known as Dante's Inferno, whence, its force being divided, it went more gently in various directions. And by one of these passages we now re-enter the main route of travel once more, and finally return to the face of the earth, wondering if it will be possible to so describe those wonderful scenes as to represent with even a limited degree of fairness or justice the awe-inspiring grandeur of the entire trip, or the perfection of fragile loveliness formed and preserved as by special miracles in the Garden of Eden.
One peculiarity of this great journey was that the box work, so abundant in other portions of the cave, was here conspicuously absent.
THE CRYSTAL PALACE.
Another route in Wind Cave is that to the Crystal Palace which, although the shortest, is the one most seldom taken by visitors, because of a certain amount of difficulty and discomfort being unavoidable. Only a portion of the great stairway below the entrance is descended, when we abandon it and climb into a hole in the side-wall of the narrow passage, from which point to the end of the trip our feet prove to be merely encumbrances.
The space crawled into and through widens sufficiently in several places to form chambers of good size, but the height of the ceiling is nowhere more than three feet and most of it only two or even less. The rough rock floor is partly carpeted with patches of loose moist clay, which is the means of our becoming as grimy as tramps, and its source is readily accounted for by an examination of the ceiling. This is easily made while resting one skinned elbow at the expense of the other. The word "abraded" is inadequate where anything approaching real cave study is attempted.
The box work of the ceiling has almost entirely lost its crystallization, and is as ready to crumble as the enclosed clay, which is still retained because it had not yet reached the necessary point of deterioration to be carried out before the great volume of water, required for that service, retired from this high level of the cave.
When finally reached, the Crystal Palace proved worthy of the effort, its decoration being entirely of dripstone and very beautiful, although on too small a scale to be compared with similar work in many caves: it is merely an attractive "extra" in Wind Cave, and not one of the important attractions that give the Cave the rank that may have a few equals but no superiors.
The first room is scarcely more than twelve feet in either direction and not quite six feet high. The glassy ceiling is thickly studded with small stalactites from two to eighteen inches in length, and mostly of the hollow "pipe stem" variety, from which the surplus drip rests in white masses on the clean floor around a central bowl of good clear water.
Down the middle of the wall directly opposite the entrance a rushing little white cascade has congealed, and on either side just under the ceiling is a hollowed-out nook closely set with short stalactites and small columns, all pure white.
Near by but not connected is another room too well filled to permit an entrance, but a portion of the wall having been carried out a satisfactory view is not denied. Here the floor rises to within three feet of the ceiling, and the deposit is much heavier, so that many fine columns rise from bases that spread and meet or overlap. If the cave had no greater claim to notice than these small drip rooms, it would still be worthy of a visit.
The effort to secure flash-light pictures could only be considered successful because there are none better to be had.
The atmosphere of Wind Cave is marvelously fresh and pure, and possesses in a high degree the invigorating quality which in most caves renders unusual exertion not only possible, but agreeable as well. In all the chambers and passages there is little change in the quality of the air, and thorough tests with a standard thermometer showed the variations on the different levels, from the highest to the lowest, to be about 2°; but on different days the range was from 45° to 52°. This curious state of affairs some one else will have to explain.
The only forms of life ever found in Wind Cave are a small fly and the mountain rat.
While visiting the cave, every one connected with it was most kind and obliging, especially in showing those beautiful and difficult portions that few visitors are so fortunate as to see. While this is very far from being a complete description even of the parts visited, it will serve to show what a truly grand cavern is located at the south end of the Black Hills.
The elevation at Hot Springs is three thousand, four hundred feet, and that of the entrance to the cave is four thousand and forty feet. A source of disappointment in connection with Wind Cave is that its fine scenery cannot be effectively pictured.