... we made our way down the stairway against the very strong wind and then began our descent proper, into the wonderful, indescribably wonderful cave - down, down into the very 'bowels of the earth."
To witness the beginning of the formation of Wind Cave, one of the world's oldest caves, you would have to have been here 320 million years ago. At that time parts of the limestone that constitute the upper levels of Wind Cave were being dissolved into cave passageways. As ancient ocean levels fluctuated, these passages were filled with sediments. Beneath the ocean, a thick layer of sediments continued to be deposited above that limestone.
About 60 million years ago, the forces that uplifted the Rocky Mountains also uplifted the modern Black Hills producing large fractures and cracks in the overlying limestone. Over millions of years, water moving slowly through those cracks dissolved the limestone to produce the complex maze of the cave's passages.
Later erosion changed surface drainage patterns that caused subsurface water levels to drop, draining the cave passages. As the modern Wind Cave formed, many of these newer passages intersected the original cave, revealing the red clay and sandstone sediments from 320 million years ago.
It was after the cave formed that most of the colorful cave formations began to decorate its walls. One of the most prominent features in Wind Cave is boxwork - thin, honeycomb-shaped structures of calcite that protrude from the walls and ceilings. Nowhere else in the world can such a large display be seen. Some of the better known cave formations, such as stalactites and stalagmites, are rare here.
You might wonder if after more than 100 years of exploration there is anything new to discover in Wind Cave. Barometric wind studies estimate that approximately five percent of the total cave has been discovered. In 1891 Alvin McDonald wrote in a diary of his cave trips:
The better equipped cavers of today have not given up. They are continuing to push farther and farther into the cave's cool, black recesses.
The General park map handed out at the visitor center is available on the park's map webpage.For information about topographic maps, geologic maps, and geologic data sets, please see the geologic maps page.
A geology photo album for this park can be found here.For information on other photo collections featuring National Park geology, please see the Image Sources page.
Currently, we do not have a listing for a park-specific geoscience book. The park's geology may be described in regional or state geology texts.
Parks and Plates: The Geology of Our National Parks, Monuments & Seashores.
Lillie, Robert J., 2005.
W.W. Norton and Company.
9" x 10.75", paperback, 550 pages, full color throughout
The spectacular geology in our national parks provides the answers to many questions about the Earth. The answers can be appreciated through plate tectonics, an exciting way to understand the ongoing natural processes that sculpt our landscape. Parks and Plates is a visual and scientific voyage of discovery!
Ordering from your National Park Cooperative Associations' bookstores helps to support programs in the parks. Please visit the bookstore locator for park books and much more.
Information about the park's research program is available on the park's research webpage.
For information about permits that are required for conducting geologic research activities in National Parks, see the Permits Information page.
The NPS maintains a searchable data base of research needs that have been identified by parks.
A bibliography of geologic references is being prepared for each park through the Geologic Resources Evaluation Program (GRE). Please see the GRE website for more information and contacts.
NPS Geology and Soils PartnersAssociation of American State Geologists
Geological Society of America
Natural Resource Conservation Service - Soils
U.S. Geological Survey
General information about the park's education and intrepretive programs is available on the park's education webpage.For resources and information on teaching geology using National Park examples, see the Students & Teachers pages.