In 1903, Wind Cave—near Hot Springs, South Dakota—was the first cave to be designated a National Park. It’s currently the sixth-longest cave in the world, with more than 140 miles of explored passageways. But with several additional miles being discovered every year, it might not be long before Wind Cave surpasses Optymistychna Cave in the Ukraine (146.6 miles) and Sistema Ox Bel Ha in Mexico (159.8 miles) to reach the top four.
Due to its sheer size, there are a vast number of “rooms” in the cave, many with bizarre names: Andy’s Ice Box, Arm Pit, Bachelors Quarters, and the Bagel Ballroom, just to name a few. There’s a method to the madness, sort of: If you find a new room, you get to name it—and nearly anything goes. Here are the stories behind a few of the most interesting ones:
1. ANDY'S ICE BOX
Discovered on December 15, 1979, by Andy Flurkey, Norm Pace, and John Scheltens, Andy’s Ice Box is full of aragonite frostwork—delicate, needle-like growths of calcite that resemble frost creeping across a window. The room discovered by these three explorers is packed with the stuff, making it resemble a frosty freezer.
2. WHAT! YEAH!
If this sounds like a Lil’ Jon lyric to you, you’re absolutely correct. When Jason Walz, Jessie Mann, and Chris Dale found a chasm 30 feet deep, 20 feet wide, and 25 feet long, Lil’ Jon’s exclamations of “What! Yeah!” were the first words that came to mind.
3. WHAT THE HELL LAKE
Up until 1996, the place where What the Hell Lake is now had been completely dry. When Stan Allison discovered that the dry passage had suddenly become water-filled, he exclaimed, “What the hell?” The appearance of the lake prevented cavers from exploring significant sections of the passage until the water receded in 2004.
4. BACHELORS QUARTERS
The thin layer of dust and dirt that covers everything in this room resulted in this unflattering nickname.
5. BAGEL BALLROOM
When cavers found these two large rooms in 1987, they took a break to eat lunch. “To our surprise, everyone on the trip had brought sandwiches for lunch made on bagels (these are tough pieces of bread well suited to the harshness of being carried all day in a caving pack),” Jim Pisarowicz wrote in the official report. “The new rooms were thus named the Bagel Ballroom.” A hole in the floor that led to another room was dubbed “Bagel Hole,” and a large, connected gallery became “Bagel Bowl.”
6. NUDIST COLONY
Dave Schnute was surveying with famous cavers Herb and Jan Conn when they came across a room with a bunch of additional passageways and nooks to explore. Schnute declared that it was "more fun than a mosquito in a nudist colony."
7. PANT PEELER
This small crawl space was named after explorer Randy Brown squeezed his way through—and it was such a tight fit, it peeled his pants and underwear down.
8. THE BEAUTY PARLOR
This area of the cave contains a red, sandy clay that was sold to women to wear as rouge in the 1890s. The National Park Service believes this room was named by the McDonald family, the family that first started developing the cave for tourism in 1890.
9. CAMPAIGN TRAIL
This walking passage was named on November 11, 2000—right in the middle of the Al Gore/George W. Bush election controversy.
10. DUNCAN ROOM
In 1989, Rachel Cox, a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) student involved in a mock search-and-rescue mission, actually got lost in Wind Cave. The park received a call from a psychic who said Cox would be found in a room with “Duncan” in the name. When Cox was found, 37 hours after she went missing, she was located in a room that hadn’t been named. To fulfill the psychic’s prediction, they dubbed it Duncan Room.
11. MRS. WILLIAMS WOMB
In 1985, NOLS student Geoff Williams was the first brave soul to lead the expedition into a small, tight spot. They named the area after his mother's womb. Additionally, they named the tight crawl that led to the spot "Mrs. Williams Birth Canal." We're sure Mrs. Williams was flattered.
12. SPOOK ALLEY
On October 31, 2000, a group of cavers took an ABC World News Tonight crew on a surveying expedition. During this trip, the crew happened to discover a series of rooms where someone had left an old newspaper many years before. The newspaper was dated October 31, 1897—and the fact that a newspaper from a Halloween over a century prior was found on Halloween seemed pretty spooky.
Also worth mentioning: The Backstreet Boys, Vanilla Ice, NSYNC, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Phish, Darkwing Duck, the pop group Dream, Chris Farley, John Wayne, Pizza Hut, Miller beer, Pee-wee Herman, Yahoo!, and even the Lycos search engine have spots named after them within the cave.