West 2016: Jewel Cave NM

Day 6: August 10, 2016

On the sixth day of our vacation, we went to Jewel Cave National Monument. It is only a few miles away from Wind Cave National Park, and some researchers actually believe that the two cave systems are connected.

Jewel Cave was discovered by local prospectors Frank and Albert Michaud in 1900. The entrance wasn’t large enough to accommodate a person, so they blasted it with dynamite! Theodore Roosevelt designated it as a National Monument on February 7, 1908. The Civilian Conservation Corps developed the natural entrance in the 1930s and after it was taken over by the National Park Service, tours were begun in 1939.

Jewel Cave National Monument

In 1959, only about two miles had been mapped, then rock climbers and cave explorers Herb and Jan Conn began exploring the cave (they mapped a lot of Wind Cave too). The National Park Service created an elevator shaft eventually in order to access a part of the cave that was previously remote, and then began the Scenic Tour in 1972. Today, there are over 181 miles of mapped passageways. Based on research of air flow, it is estimated that only 3-5% of the cave is currently mapped.  If you consider Jewel Cave and Wind Cave as two separate caves, Jewel Cave is actually much larger. It also has much different formations.

Jewel cave contains all of the common types of cave formations, including stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone and draperies.

Popcorn and draperies

Draperies in Jewel Cave

I went on the Scenic Tour of Jewel Cave; mom decided to sit this one out so I was on my own.  My tour was 90 minutes, and had 723 steps.  It descends, through an elevator and walking, to a depth of 370 feet into the cave.  I didn’t find it particularly difficult, but again my Fitbit didn’t record my steps since we were underground.  Jewel Cave is a much different cave than Wind Cave; I thought it was much prettier. Jewel Cave is aptly named, in that it is very sparkly and glittery – this comes from lots and lots of cave popcorn, which is made from calcite and is very, very sparkly.  One of the most intriguing formations is called Cave Bacon, and it really does look like bacon!

Some of the walkways on the tour


So many pretty sparkles


All that sparkles


Do you see the cave bacon? It was easier to see in real life. Pictures don’t do it justice.

Back on the surface after the tour, I found my mom, who had done the 20 minute Discovery Talk, which just goes into the first large room of the cave but does not require a lot of walking or stairs. We checked out the little exhibit, and then headed outside into another sunny, gorgeous day. There we watched a group getting ready to go on the Wild Caving Tour, and the ranger was making sure they could all fit through the tightest spaces. I would like to do that tour one day, and it made me glad to be little! It was certainly a tight squeeze between those cinder blocks!

Could you get through there?

We couldn’t spend too much time dawdling though, as we still have plenty to do for the day!

Costs and Fees: No charge to visit Jewel Cave National Monument itself, there are fees for the tours.  The Scenic Tour is $12 per adult; the Discovery Talk is $4, or free with a Senior National Park Pass.


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