Wind Cave National Park Hydrology

For millions of years rain and snow have fallen on the prairie and slowly seeped into the cave. In the past 100 years, however, human development has brought about a change to this natural water cycle. This change, which could be damaging to the cave, has prompted park researchers to study the flow of water from the prairie to the lowest depths of Wind Cave.

It may seem like a difficult task to track water droplets as they move through the soil and into the cracks and passageways of the cave. But, there is an effective technique that can be used. It is called dye tracing and it is the focus of cave research at Wind Cave National Park.

Dye-tracing is very simple in theory. A non-toxic, colored dye mixed with water is poured onto a selected spot on the surface. The colored water then travels through the cracks and pores of the limestone, where it is captured in chosen collection sites in the cave. The results of the dye-trace help researchers understand how developments over the cave are affecting the water that enters it.

A Wind Cave dye-trace was initiated on July 29, 1996. Two different colored dyes were mixed with enough water to simulate a storm with one inch of rainfall. The dyes were poured into two separate locations about 400 yards apart. The results were quite surprising: both dyes ended up in the same place! The dye-trace showed that water does not always seep straight downward, but may travel horizonatally for distances and then drop into the cave.

The area around the visitor center has changed dramatically in the past 100 years. Thousands of visitors use the area each day. Buildings, sewer lines, a parking lot, and cars occupy space directly above the cave. These "new inhabitants" may be causing damage to the fragile ecosystem below. Of all the developments, the parking lot seems to be the greatest concern.

Water that would naturally be absorbed into the ground is funneled off the parking lot into four specific spots. That causes water to enter the cave at unnatural rates and locations. Not only are the amounts and locations of water changed, the channeled water can carry oil, gas, antifreeze and other pollutants from the parking lot into the cave. Some of these have already shown up in trace amounts at water collecting sites in the cave.

To solve some of these problems, park managers redesigned the parking lot, creating one that will eliminate most damage to the cave. Our goal is to have a more natural path for water to follow into the cave, a path reminiscent of the past, a path that created the beauty that is Wind Cave.

$259.95
Hauling multiple days of gear across mountainous terrain is never easy, but at least you can ease the burden with the...
Price subject to change | Available through Backcountry.com
Featured Park
Rising above a scene rich with extraordinary wildlife, pristine lakes, and alpine terrain, the Teton Range stands monument to the people who fought to protect it. These are mountains of the imagination. Mountains that led to the creation of Grand Teton National Park where you can explore over two hundred miles of trails, float the Snake River or enjoy the serenity of this remarkable place.
Featured Wildlife
The pika is a close relative of the rabbits and hares, with two upper incisors on each side of the jaw, one behind the other. Being rock-gray in color, pikas are seldom seen until their shrill, metallic call reveals their presence.