Decided to finish what we had started out to do after Wind Cave NP before our rude interruption of the rock hitting the windshield creating a chip. So, off we headed to visit Jewel Cave National Monument (NM). The weather’s changed to beautiful days loaded with sunshine and slight breezes – a very nice, refreshing change from last week’s weather!
As we headed towards Jewel Cave NM we came upon some “cowboys and gals” herding cattle by the side of the road. A woman in an ATV was heading the way (talk about mixing past and present day events) with her red flag to slow down traffic. It was really fun to watch the horses weave in and out of the cattle as well as to listen to the cattles’ protests as they walked along the roadside.
We reached the cave and fortunately just in time (again) for the tour to begin with only a short wait. That allowed us time to go through the museum and read some of the literature provided. Jewel Cave, is currently the second longest cave in the world (Mammoth Cave in Kentucky is the longest at 390 miles), with just over 151.34 miles of mapped passageways.
In 1900, the cave was discovered by two local homesteaders, Frank and Albert Michaud when they felt cold air blowing out of a small hole in a canyon. There is nothing recorded that this was known to other inhabitants in the area in history. The cave opening was not large enough for a person to enter. The Michaud’s enlarged the cave entrance with dynamite and found a cavern lined with calcite crystals, which led them to name it “Jewel Cave”. The brothers tried to capitalize on the discovery by widening the opening, building walkways inside and opening it to tourists. News of the discovery eventually reached Washington and President Roosevelt proclaimed it a national monument in 1908 and was assumed for management by the National Park Service in 1933 and they began offering tours in 1939.
As recently as 1959, less than two miles of passageway had been discovered. That year, Herb and Jan Conn, local rock climbers, began exploring and within two years had mapped 15 miles. At that time, the NPS sunk a 300-foot elevator shaft to a previously remote cave area, built concrete walks and metal stairs and platforms along one-half-mile loop. The “scenic tour” was opened in 1972 and this was the tour we took. Their explorations continued for another twenty plus years and the two of them had discovered, named and mapped more than 64 miles of passages. Even though they retired in the 1980s, explorations continue and the cave is mapped by traditional survey techniques using compass, clinometers and today with lasers rather than tape measures.
We took the elevator down the 22-story shaft and proceeded to follow Ranger Ned along 800 steps on the aluminum catwalk, up and down throughout the entire two hour long tour. He was certainly knowledgeable and told us a tremendous amount about geology and the cave development. The calcite is the same mineral used in making soda – it eats away and dissolves all the limestone to make the cave. The joke among the rangers is that the calcite makes Jewel Cave “Nature’s Cavity” – I can only hope we can do justice in trying to identify all the parts of the cave with the proper names, or ones he even said were made up. It was fascinating and a really informative tour and we tried to limit the pictures to some of our favorites - WAY too many to chose from!
After the tour we opted to take the same route we used going to Crazy Horse Memorial, but drive further north before heading east and back to Ellsworth FamCamp. This route took us by the beautiful Sheridan Lake just north of Hill City. This lake is also set aside for camping, fishing, kayaking, picnicking and a variety of other outdoor activities. As we drove north, we were also driving parallel to the Mickelson Trail that I had talked about in another post. We managed to see some of the trail and both wished the weather had been better during our whole stay for us to have ridden along the trail on our bikes.
The George S. Mickelson Trail follows the historic Deadwood to Edgemont Burlington Northern rail line. This line passed through the heart of South Dakota’s Black Hills and was abandoned in 1983. A group of local residents recognized the line’s historic value and recreational potential. Because of their initiative, the state’s first rails-to-trails project was underway. Originally dubbed the Black Hills Burlington Northern Heritage Trail, the project gained early support from then-Governor George S. Mickelson. The governor played an integral role in the trail’s early success, and in 1991, he proudly dedicated the first six miles of the trail. Following Mickelson’s untimely death in 1993, the trail was renamed in his honor. The trail was finished in 1998 and is 109 miles of variety with gentle slopes and easy access, people of all ages and abilities enjoy the beauty of the Mickelson Trail. It’s been added to our “bucket list”.
We arrived home mid afternoon and enjoyed sitting out at our picnic table just enjoying the gorgeous sunshine and warm temps! Hope you have enjoyed our second cave exploration.
Till the next time . . .