Chapter X: Wind Cave Continued: 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.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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