By Hazel A. Barton

Wind Cave is the seventh longest cave in the world, with one of the longest exploration histories in the US. Exploration began in 1891, when Alvin McDonald explored almost 10 miles of cave using string and candles. In the 1960s and 1970, major new discoveries by Herb and Jan Conn, Dave Springhetti, and John Scheltens pushed the cave to 50 surveyed miles. In 1991, following the Rachel Cox rescue, the National Park invited the Colorado Grotto to establish the Wind Cave Project, which again accelerated discovery, resulting in 100 miles of known cave by 2001. Yet, even as Wind Cave reached 150 miles of surveyed passage in 2019, only the South Comfort extension (discovered by Paul Burger and Stan Allison in 1991) extended the cave beyond the 1‑mile x 1‑mile surface footprint of the 1970s.

In September 2019, cavers returned to push the Lunatic Fringe, which was discovered on the far west edge of the cave in 1994 and was thought to end at a distinct fault boundary. By pushing an internal lead, the team discovered over 1.5 miles of cave in three trips to an area now collectively termed “Fantasyland”; these trips have generated some of the largest single survey totals in the cave since the early 1990s. Fantasyland still contains a large number of leads and appears to be headed toward Persistence Cave, a small cave that airflow studies have suggested is part of the main Wind Cave system. Even though COVID‑19 shut down exploration in March 2020, Fantasyland continues and has the potential to dramatically extend the length of the cave and add a new entrance into this enormous cave.

About Me

Wikipedia Source: Hazel Barton

Hazel A. Barton is a professor of microbiology and geology at University of Akron and co-star of the 2001 IMAX film Journey Into Amazing Caves. She has made appearances on several television shows including the CBS Early Show in 2007 when she was featured by Phil Koeghan as a Koeghan Hero. In December 2006, Barton was featured on Animal Planets The Real Lost World. Appearances feature Bartons research involving caves and the microbial life that inhabit these harsh environments. She has published numerous publications on cave research and extremophile bacteria and co-authored with Nancy Holler Aulenbach the childrens book Exploring Caves: Journeys into the Earth, based on their 2001 film. She has also been featured in the childrens book Extreme Scientists: Exploring Natures Mysteries from Perilous Places by Donna M. Jackson. She was one of the scientists featured in the History Channel special Journey to the Center of the World, which documented the exploration of the Guatemalan cave Naj Tunich, which was used as a sacred site by the ancient Maya.


  1. I enjoyed your talk, great job and good to hear you didn’t scoop all of the leads, lol! But yep unfortunately have to wait on coronavirus….

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