Wind Cave, Custer and Crazy Horse

While we were hanging out in the Black Hills area of South Dakota, we decided to check out the Wind Cave National Park.  There are actually a couple of caves in the area that you can visit, this one and Jewel Cave National Monument.  After a group discussion, we settled on Wind Cave.  It is considered one of the world's longest and most complex caves.  It is different than any other cave that I have visited before.  It is considered to be a “dry cave” where most others that I’ve seen have been considered “wet caves.”  We found it to be a little less colorful and spectacular than other caves we’ve seen.  IMG_8191

It doesn’t include stalactites and stalagmites that are so often associated with caves.  Instead Wind Cave has a formation called boxwork, an unusual cave formation composed of thin calcite fins resembling honeycombs.  IMG_8218

Regarded as sacred by American Indians, the cave was not found by settlers until 1881, Jesse & Tom Bingham (two brothers), heard a loud whistling noise.  The sound led them to a small hole in the ground where the wind was said to blow with such force out of the hole that it blew Jesse’s hat off his head!  This is the only known natural opening to the cave.  IMG_8247There were several mining claims established here, but they were unsuccessful.  J.D. McDonald, who was hired to manage one of the mining claims, and his family realized they could make money by giving cave tours.  They filed a homestead claim over the opening and came up with a manmade entrance & enlarged passageways for tours.IMG_8227

Alvin McDonald, J.D.’s son, fell in love with Wind Cave and it was his eagerness to share it with others that helped to aid in the development of Wind Cave National Park.  Even to this day, occasionally pieces of his string are discovered by survey teams and his signature is discovered written or carved into a wall or ceiling.  As recently as August 2009, his signature was discovered where it has been assumed no other person had ever visited.  The signature was dated July 1893.  He also had some of the very early tourists sign their signatures into the walls of the cave when they visited.  IMG_8240


It was a very interesting place to visit.  After we finished that tour, we took some time to walk around the historic streets of Custer City which is the oldest city in the Black Hills.  We just kind of did some of the typical “touristy” stuff. 


And then later that day, we headed over to the Crazy Horse Memorial. It is to be the world’s largest mountain sculpture, and a memorial to the spirit of legendary Lakota leader, Crazy Horse and his culture.  Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski and Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear officially started Crazy Horse Memorial June 3, 1948.  IMG_8254That first dedication blast took off 10 tons of rock, but millions of tons have been removed since, although they still have a long way to go!  They don’t expect the sculpture to be finished for at least the next 60 years!  IMG_8255

Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear learned of the sculptor when one of his sculptures won first prize at the 1939 NY’s World’s Fair.  Here’s a portrait that they have of Korczak as he will always be remembered.  IMG_8268

When he arrived in the Black Hills in 1947, he was almost 40 and had only $174 left to his name.  A strong believer in the free enterprise system, he turned down offers of federal funding.  He also knew the project was larger than any one person’s lifetime, so he left detailed plans to be used by others to continue the project.  He did so with multiple scale models.  This one is a 1/34th scale model.  IMG_8261

Inside the Indian Museum, they have this 1/300th scale model that you can line up with the carving on the mountain.  It’s a pretty cool view!  IMG_8259


Since his death in 1982, Korczak’s wife, Ruth and some of his children, have directed the work which continues.  I suppose that I won’t see the finished product in my lifetime.  Interesting concept if nothing else.  Happy Trails!


  1. Wonderful article. Well written and presented. I enjoyed the history and introspection. Felt like I was right there.


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