National Parks Quiz And Trivia #74: The Midwest Edition

The visitor center at Minuteman Missile National Historic Site / Rebecca Latson

South Dakota has its fair share of units within the National Park System, several of which are within a couple hours’ (or less) drive time of each other. So this latest quiz and trivia piece is about some of those Midwest park units. Test your knowledge and discover how much you know (or don’t know – ahem).

1. Visit Minuteman Missile National Historic Site’s visitor center, and you’ll learn that it would take ___ for a nuclear missile launched from the Soviet Union to reach the East Coast of the United States.

              a) 20 minutes

              b) 30 minutes

              c) 40 minutes

              d) One hour

What is this marble-sized fossil? Badlands National Park / Rebecca Latson

2. Badlands National Park is a treasure trove of fossils, including this close-up of a small, approximately ½-inch diameter spherical fossil which was once ___.

              a) A flower bulb

              b) A tree seed pod

              c) Mouse deer poop

              d) A dung beetle ball

Crane your neck to look up at the ceiling and you’ll see some amazing boxwork formations, Wind Cave National Park / Rebecca Latson

3. True or False: 95 percent of the world’s boxwork cave formations are found in Wind Cave at Wind Cave National Park.

              a) True

              b) False

Dogtooth spar in the Target Room of Jewel Cave, Jewel Cave National Monument / Rebecca Latson

4. Jewel Cave is named after the sparkly “jewels” of calcite crystals that blanket the cave walls in places. These crystals form dogtooth spar and ___.

              a) Diamond spar

              b) Flattop spar

              c) Nailhead spar

              d) Snaggletooth spar

5. National parks have had their share of movies filmed within their boundaries. What famous movie was filmed at Mount Rushmore National Memorial?

              a) North By Northwest

              b) National Treasure: Book of Secrets

              c) Both of the above

              d) Neither of the above

Can you name this formation? Badlands National Park / Rebecca Latson

6. As you drive the Loop Road through Badlands National Park, you’ll see these tall formations of soil and vegetation pictured here. They are especially visible at the Door Trail, a few miles south of the park’s Northeast Entrance. These formations are known as ___.

              a) Sod pedestals

              b) Sod tables

              c) Sod columns

              d) Sod squares

One of the rarest cave speleothems to exist, Jewel Cave National Monument / NPS file

7. Jewel Cave is a treasure house of delicate and rare speleothems. The formation pictured above is one of the rarest to exist and is called a ___.

              a) Hydromagnesite balloon

              b) Magnesium sac

              c) Magnesium bubble

              d) Pearly magnesite balloon

Black-tailed prairie dog, Badlands National Park / Rebecca Latson

8. There are ___ species of prairie dogs in North America, the black-tailed prairie dog of which is found in Badlands and Wind Cave national parks.

              a) three

              b) four

              c) five

              d) six

Carving the memorial, Mount Rushmore National Memorial / NPS file

9. True or False: 85 percent of the carving on Mount Rushmore was done with dynamite.

              a) True

              b) False

A pronghorn just minding its own business, Wind Cave National Park / Rebecca Latson

10. Travel the road through Wind Cave National Park and you might encounter one or more pronghorn. True or false: pronghorn is a species of antelope.

              a) True

              b) False


The elevator house at Wind Cave National Park / Rebecca Latson

“The main focus of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) at Wind Cave was to help with projects concerning the conservation of natural resources and the construction of park facilities. The projects assigned to the enrollees provided excellent training opportunities. Inside the cave they helped sink a 208-foot elevator shaft, installed concrete steps, an indirect lighting system, repaired the cave trail, and began a cave survey. They also built a walk-in entrance near the Natural Entrance of the cave for tours. On the surface, they sloped banks for park roads, built a fence around the park to contain the wildlife, built fire trails, dug, and constructed concrete reservoirs, erected or remodeled park buildings, landscaped the headquarters area and occasionally fought forest fires. During their time at the park, they also assisted in removing interior fences that were once part of the game preserve, providing more space for wildlife to roam. Many of the buildings, walls, trails, and roads you see today are remnants of Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) projects.”

A vast ocean of grass seen from the Prairie Wind Overlook, Badlands National Park / Rebecca Latson

Although not as dramatic a setting as the surreal formations viewed at other overlooks, stop anyway at the Prairie Wind Overlook to view the vast ocean of grassland around you. This overlook provides a serene view of the mixed-grass prairie at Badlands National Park. According to the National Park Service, “The North American prairie ecosystem is separated into three major components, based on which type of grass dominates the ecology: short-grass prairie, mixed-grass prairie, and tall-grass prairie. The short-grass prairie runs along the rain shadow of the Rocky Mountains, where short grasses receive little moisture. The tall-grass prairie ecosystem Badlands hosts the largest preserved mixed-grass prairie in the United States.  Today, the native prairie only retains about 2% of its original range. Invasive plants such as yellow sweet clover and Canada thistle further threaten what little is left, pushing out native plants virtually unchallenged. Badlands National Park does what it can to manage these invaders with various tactics, including prescribed fires and spraying herbicides.”

Weee-ooo! Wind Cave National Park / Rebecca Latson

Park on the shoulder or at a pullout or view area in Wind Cave or Badlands national parks and just sit quietly to watch a prairie dog’s antics while going about its day in a prairie dog town. You might see it busily digging out its mound, dirt flying in all directions, or rolling a ball of that same dirt in its long-fingered paws to nibble on, or doing something without rhyme or reason: the “jimp-yip.” According to an online article at regarding this behavior, “One will stand up, seemingly without reason, on its haunches, lean back its head and call out ‘wee-oo.’ Immediately thereafter, the other prairie dogs in the vicinity will do the same in wave fashion, similar to that seen by humans at sporting events.”

Researchers studying black-tailed prairie dogs are convinced that this behavior is not an all-clear sign but more like one prairie dog testing the surrounding group’s alertness and responsiveness. If the wave response is strong, then the one who initiated the action feels safer while foraging and building up its mound. If the wave response is weaker or non-responsive, then the one who initiated the action must be a little more attentive to its surroundings. That’s the theory, anyway. Weee-oooo! 

Quiz Answers 


It would take an ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) about thirty minutes when launched from the Soviet Union to reach a spot on the East Coast in the United States. Not much time to get one’s affairs in order.


Keep your eyes peeled to the ground and surrounding landscape and you might come across a perfectly spherical fossil dung beetle ball about 30-32 million years old. Considered trace fossils, their presence indicates a dry, warm, grassland or open woodland environment much different from the present-day arid, crumbly-rock landscape of the park.

3a True

According to the National Park Service, “Boxwork is made of thin blades of calcite that project from cave walls and ceilings, forming a honeycomb pattern. The fins intersect one another at various angles, forming “boxes” on all cave surfaces. Boxwork is largely confined to dolomite layers in the middle and lower levels of Wind Cave.” Ninety-five percent of the world’s boxwork formations are found in Wind Cave, and you’ll see fine examples of this speleothem if you take the park’s Natural Entrance Tour.


According to the National Park Service, “Nailhead spar crystal formed in an underwater environment. The built-up calcium from the eroded limestone precipitated or stuck to the walls of the cave. Water filed down the tops of the crystal to be flat, similar to the flathead of a nail.” DYK, at one point in Jewel Cave’s geological history, the walls and ceiling were 100 percent covered in calcite crystal. Talk about sparkly!


Mount Rushmore National Memorial has served as backdrop to both the 1959 Alfred Hitchcock film North by Northwest starring Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, and the 2007 Jon Turtletaub film National Treasure: Book of Secrets starring Nicholas Cage and Diane Kruger.


While you could probably get away with calling the pictured formation by any of those names, the correct term is sod table. According to the National Park Service,The soil and grass of sod tables protect the rock below from erosion by soaking up rain during intense storms, while the exposed rock around sod tables cannot absorb water and quickly washes away. The different rates of erosion make it appear like sod tables are springing up out of the Badlands, when they are really wearing away more slowly than the rock around them.”


According to the National Park Service, “As calcite starts to crystallize from dripping water on cave walls, the magnesium remaining in the water becomes much more concentrated. If enough evaporation occurs, the magnesium precipitates out into hydromagnesite, a pasty white substance coating the cave walls. This substance can inflate, forming hollow, pearly balloons about .05 mm (a couple thousandths of an inch!) thick. Besides being rare, what makes these formations so amazing is how they actually inflate, because nobody knows for certain!”


According to the National Park Service, “There are five species of prairie dogs—the black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus), white-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys leucurus), Gunnison’s prairie dog (Cynomys gunnisoni), Utah prairie dog (Cynomys parvidens), and Mexican prairie dog (Cynomys mexicanus)—all of which may be considered rare.” Prairie dog “towns” are easy to spot: at Badlands, look for bare, dark ground dotted with light beige mounds. At Wind Cave, look for light-colored bare ground with dark dirt mounds.

9b False

Ninety percent of the carving on Mount Rushmore’s granite rock was done with dynamite. Nearly 400 workers helped create the memorial and there were no casualties during the carving.

10b False

According to the National Park Service, “Pronghorns are found in North America and nowhere else in the world. They have roamed the plains and deserts unchanged for over a million years. Some call them antelope because they resemble African antelope, although the two are not closely related. They are the only surviving member of their family, Antilocapridae. The pronghorn’s closest living relatives are the giraffe and okapi.” Both male and female pronghorns have horns and they are the only animal in the world that shed their horn sheaths each year.

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