West by Southwest, 2009 travel blog

One of the best views. The red color is probably rust which...

Almost all the surfaces were covered with this mailhead spar of calcite...

This is the same as a stalactite, only water is flowing across...

This was a day for caves. We started out with Jewel Cave National Monument this morning, came back home for lunch and a short break, then over the Wind Cave National Park for the afternoon.

To date, Jewel Cave is the second longest cave in the United States with passageways extending for over 140 miles. Only Mammoth Cave in Kentucky is longer. Explorers are still down in Jewel Cave mapping out new passages and tunnels every day. Jewel Cave is named for the calcite crystals which cover most of the interior walls of the cave.

We chose to do the scenic tour. On this ranger-led tour, we got to see all the different formations found in the cave. Our group made its way along a pave path, interspersed with metal catwalks and some 700 stairs on a half mile journey into the cave.

There were a few stalactites and stalagmites like you would expect to find in a cave. The most remarkable thing about this cave were the calcite crystals which covered nearly every surface of the interior. I expected to see huge, colorful crystals decorating the interior. I was somewhat disappointed. The crystals were there underneath the brownish/gray outer layer which was dull and not very interesting. There were a few places where we saw the crystals shining through, but they were few and usually far away.

After lunch, we headed over to Wind Cave. They had already implemented their “winter schedule” and were only offering one tour choice. We weren’t very interested in that particular choice, plus having been in a cave today, we decided to pass. We toured the exhibit hall and watched the movie about the park. Wind Cave has National Park status and consists of 28,000 acres of vast open prairie adjoining Custer State Park. It is where the buffalo, antelope, deer, coyote, and prairie dog roam. They also have a sizable herd of elk. We were there in the heat of the day, so nothing was out but the buffalo and prairie dog. There is also several miles of trail and a campground.

Tomorrow will be a day to complete the few chores required to hit the road on Tuesday. Mostly, I hope to rest. After almost a week of going and doing every day, I need a day at home.

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