The Black Hills, June 2019, Day 5: Wind Cave and Jewel Cave

In June of 2019, I took an long-planned, epic 11-day road trip from Texas all the way up to the Dakotas! In order to keep to blog posts from being painfully long, I’ve broken the trip up into days and will release one post per day or so. This covers my day spent seeing the area around Custer, SD, including Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument.

I’ve been a cave aficionado ever since Tory and I toured Carlsbad Caverns (which is staggeringly impressive) back in 2012. Since then, I’ve also visited Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, which is cool but doesn’t have nearly as many stalactites and stalagmites as Carlsbad due to being bone-dry. In any case, I was eager to check out the two most prominent caves of the area.

One of the most enjoyable parts of the day was actually an early, impromptu detour to the top of Mount Coolidge (named for president Calvin Coolidge, who liked to vacation in the Black Hills and even had Custer State Park named his “summer White House”). I wound up the dirt road to the summit and was rewarded with stupendous panoramas of virtually the entire Black Hills region from the Crazy Horse Memorial to Black Elk Peak to Mount Rushmore, and a wide swath of plains to the south.

180-degree panorama from north through east to south
looking south
looking southeast
looking north
close-up looking north, labeled

Driving south to Wind Cave, I encountered large herds of buffalo. They lounged and strolled very close to the road, quite unconcerned about the cars. Thankfully I did not get in a “buffalo jam” (yes, that is actually a thing)!

I had booked my tour time in advance (a must during the busy summer months), so when I got to the Wind Cave visitor center with time to spare, I walked up to the top of the hill and admired the surrounding countryside.

The cave itself is most known for boxwork, a bizarre latticed geological formation almost unique to Wind Cave.

After leaving Wind Cave, I made my way to Jewel Cave, west of Custer not far from the Wyoming state line. Again I had a little bit of extra time before my tour, so I meandered around the visitor center, nestled on a hillside overlooking a valley.

Jewel Cave doesn’t have as much boxwork as Wind Cave (though it has a little), but it has more speleothems (stalact/gmites).

Back in Custer, I indulged in a wonderful slice of bumbleberry pie at Bobkat’s Purple Pie Place. I had reservations (which are required) at the high-end Skogen later, so I tried to work off my dessert-before-dinner by strolling around the town of Custer itself. It’s a cute town, touristy, but in very tranquil natural surroundings.

That’s a prairie dog town in the foreground. You can even make out some of the little critters.

Skogen, by the way, was delicious and not overly pricey (it wasn’t cheap). I highly recommend it.

I stayed that night in the Bavarian Inn on the north side of town, both because it’s very highly rated on Hotels.com (which I use frequently) and because I have a soft spot for anything Bavarian-related. The rooms were retro-fine and the exterior decor was kind of cute, but the hallway outside my room definitely had an off-putting “motel” smell. At the end of the day it just wasn’t nearly as cute as The Roost Resort, where I stayed the previous night, and it was about twice as expensive, so I really wish I had stayed both nights there. Don’t always trust the ratings!

Tomorrow: the drive to Spearfish

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