Caving Narrative 1988 - January 21 & March 3

Mary Laycock looks out over Windy City Lake
Mary Laycock looks out over Windy City Lake

NPS Photo by Jim Pisarowicz

Mark Anderson, Warren Back, Jim Basinger, Earl Greene, Jim Nepstad, Darren Ressler, John Zogorski (January 21); Earl Greene, Darren Ressler, Beth Ward

Duration of Trip:
10 and 8 hours

New Cave Surveyed:

Exploration of a cave involves not only the discovery of new passageways and adding miles to a map, it also means the search for and discovery of new information about the cave. Without that basic understanding, all the miles add up to very little. If you have discovered a world and know nothing about it, you are as lost as you were when you began.

Realizing all this, part of the exploration of Wind Cave involves the search for answers to some basic and some complicated questions. Wind Cave tends to be a very mysterious place. Trying to understand most aspects of the cave can be a very frustrating experience. In many cases what is lacking is some very basic and general research.

One of the more intriguing places in the cave is the Lakes area. Since they were discovered in the early 1970s, the level of the water has fallen dramatically. Why this is happening has never been understood but since this water has been believed to be the local water table, knowing the reasons why it is dropping could be of great value in understanding our drinking water supply.

The purpose of the trip on January 21 was to put in a gauging station which can continuously monitor the lake level, the temperature of the water and the air, and the barometric pressure. This was a fairly large group and as it turned out we needed every single person. We all became sherpas as everyone had to carry extra gear-large boxes of tools, 3 foot long packs full of plastic pipe and lots more-some of it weighing 20-30 pounds. After 4 hours of struggle we eventually reached the shores of Windy City Lake.

Wile Mark, Warren, Earl and John (who work for the US Geological Survey) went about putting the station in, the rest of us took turns floating around and examining the lake in the small yellow raft that is now a part of the scenery at Windy City Lake. After 4 hours of hard work the station was ready to go and so were we. A little over two hours later we were back on the surface hoping that the gauge would do its job for the next 6 weeks until we could get back to check on it.

On March 3 we returned to the Lakes to collect the data that the gauge had collected and stored in a microchip inside a small unit the size of a paperback book. After replacing the collection unite, adding more batteries, taking some photographs, we began the long uphill climb to the surface. While we were at the Lakes we noticed that the lake level was almost exactly what it had been in January and because of that believed the level had not changed. As it turned out we were mistaken.

The initial look at the data has indicated that not only has the level of the lake fluctuated as much of 4 inches, but the water temperature varied by as much as 2°C! This was a very surprising discovery that might help explain the origin of the cave itself. Right now, a small mechanical box sits 500 feet beneath the surface, methodically recording information that will help us someday answer some very important questions. At this point with only a very little data it is hard to tell exactly what it all means. It certainly has everyone scratching their heads and marveling about this place-Wind Cave.

Report by: Darren Ressler

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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