Atop Wind Cave, a Revelation
Wind Cave National Park was established on January 9, 1903.
By Grant Sinclair
For me, the little details are often the most significant — nothing has made that clearer than my experiences with the National Park Service.
At some point, my wife Bonnie and I resolved to visit all 413 units of that august agency. We spent most of 2012 on our first month-long road trip, visiting sites that vastly range in interpretation, from pipe making among the Plains Indians to intercontinental ballistic missiles. When we got to the Black Hills, a simple hike reminded me there is still so much wildness left in the world. Civilization has not conquered all.
Wind Cave National Park is known for spectacular cave formations and a (fantastic) lantern tour, but this is also just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Wind Cave lies at the southern end of the Black Hills, just where the ponderosa pines, which give the hills their name, begin to give way to the prairie to the south. We decided to hike through the other half of the park, above ground, feeling there is no substitute for the sensory cornucopia of the back country. We took a 4.5-mile loop out to Lookout Point and were careful not to startle any bison along the way. The trail was full of bison tracks, wallow pits and droppings.
At a wooded area alongside a gully, there was no sound other than the constant breeze of the prairie whistling through the pines. One of the best parts of getting on the trail is the quiet. We live in the suburban area of a major city, so quiet is something we savor.
And then, inexplicably, CRASH! A panicked fawn ran right between us, so close either of us could have touched it. It sounded like a stampede coming through the low brush to our left, the same direction the fawn had just come from. There, perhaps 50 yards away, was another fawn running. But running from what?
Just then a large coyote topped the hill, tearing after the fawn, while the mother of the two fawns gave chase, bleating the whole while.
The first fawn zigged and zagged, but the coyote gained with every turn, eventually overtaking the fawn and dispatching it.
The mother deer paced above, huffing and bleating her pain as she watched helplessly as the coyote consumed her offspring, peering in our direction for her other fawn. All the while, Bonnie and I were frozen in place, watching. I snapped a few pictures during and after, but while the events seem to last an eternity in my mind, they were but a few short moments.
For us, this was a seminal moment in our journey. It made our decision to experience ALL of the units of the National Park Service more dear to us. This wasn’t a brawl between jealous bears or wolves taking down an elk in Yellowstone. It was a coyote preying upon a fawn. But it served as a reminder that informed the rest of our journey; the world is still a wild place and all one needs to do to experience it is seek it out.
We knew we would see some amazing sights that year. We knew we would learn about our country. What we didn’t know, what we didn’t understand, was how much the unexpected moments in the out of the way places would impact our lives for the better. Each park, each national historic site, each battlefield has those moments. No matter how small or seemingly out of our way, we never know what we will find in the quiet corners of this country.
Grant and Bonnie Sinclair “are a couple of 40-something teachers with a passion for travel.” They co-author the marvelous travel blog Our Wander-Filled Life, sharing reviews, recommendations, and extraordinary images.
Banner image by Ken Lund.