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The two RV Gypsies
at Jewel Cave National Monument
in South Dakota
August 31, 2016

Jewel Cave National Monument contains Jewel Cave, currently the third longest cave in the world, with 181.89 miles of mapped passageways. It is located approximately 13 miles west of the town of Custer in South Dakota's Black Hills. It became a national monument in 1908.

USA map showing location of Jewel Cave
direction map

history clipart bookFrank and Albert Michaud, two local prospectors, discovered the cave in 1900, when they felt cold air blowing out of a small hole in a canyon. It is unknown whether any previous inhabitants of the area were aware of the natural cave opening, which was not large enough for a person to enter. After enlarging the cave entrance with dynamite, the Michauds found a cavern lined with calcite crystals, which led them to name it "Jewel Cave." The brothers tried to capitalize on the discovery, widening the opening, building walkways inside, and opening it to tourists. Although their venture was unsuccessful, news of the discovery eventually reached Washington. President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Jewel Cave a National Monument on February 7, 1908. The area around the natural entrance to the cave was further developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The National Park Service assumed management of the monument in 1933 and began offering tours in 1939.

Jewel Cave National Monument sign Jewel Cave stats
Jewel Cave National Monument sign Jewel Cave National Monument warning sign

Forbidden Items: All backpacks, big purses, weapons, hiking/walking sticks/poles - for your protection as well as that of the cave, these items are NOT allowed on ANY cave tour.

  • Food, gum, candy, drinks, tobacco products, monopods, tripods, large flashlights, pets, strollers, and child backpack carriers are not permitted on any cave tour.

  • Any items used or worn in a cave outside of the Black Hills-This is to prevent the spread of White Nose Syndrome, a fungus known to kill bats.

purse and camera sign

Hydrogeology: Jewel Cave was formed by the gradual dissolution of limestone by stagnant, acid-rich water. The water enlarged a network of cracks that had formed during the uplift of the Black Hills approximately 60 million years ago. The layer of calcite crystals that covers much of the cave walls was created by the re-deposition of calcite from water saturated with the mineral.

After the water that formed the cave drained, speleothems (cave formations) began to form. Jewel Cave contains all the common types of calcite formations, such as stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone, and frostwork, although not in the same abundance as other well-known caves. The dry parts of the cave contain some formations created by the deposition of gypsum, such as gypsum needles, beards, flowers, and spiders. Finally, Jewel Cave contains a very rare formation called a hydromagnesite balloon. Those are created when gas of an unknown source inflates a pasty substance formed by the precipitation of the magnesium carbonate hydroxide mineral.

cave formation some of the 723 stairs in Jewel Cave

The temperature in the cave is 49°F year-round. The Scenic Tour route provided the two RV Gypsies the opportunity to visit various cave chambers and passages decorated with calcite crystals and other speleothems. This tour is considered a modern day walking tour along a paved trail with electric lighting. The tour entered and left the cave by elevator in the Visitor Center.

The Scenic Tour was moderately strenuous and lasted 1 hour and 20 minutes. The two RV Gypsies entered Jewel Cave by an elevator that dropped them deep into the earth and from there, exited onto a metal platform in a spacious cavern.  True to its name, the walls of Jewel Cave sparkled.

more metal stairs more metal stairs

The tour route involved walking up and down 723 stair steps along a 1/2 mile loop, (equivalent to 40 flights of stairs). During the Scenic Tour, there were two types of calcite crystals known as nailhead spar and dogtooth spar, which are the jewels of Jewel Cave. In addition, there was also boxwork, cave popcorn, flowstone, stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, and a long ribbon drapery called the cave bacon.

cave formations cave formations
cave formations in Jewel Cave cave formations in Jewel Cave
cave formations in Jewel Cave more stairs in Jewel Cave
stairs in Jewell Cave cave formations in Jewel Cave
cave formations in Jewel Cave cave formations in Jewel Cave
cave formations in Jewel Cave cave formations in Jewel Cave

Stalactites and Calcite crystals

Stalactites and Calcite Crystals Stalactites and Calcite crystals
Lee Duquette in Jewel Cave Lee Duquette in Jewel Cave
Karen Duquette in Jewel Cave cave formations in Jewel Cave
cave formations in Jewel Cave cave formations in Jewel Cave
cave formations in Jewel Cave cave formations in Jewel Cave
some of the 723 stairs cave formations in Jewel Cave
cave formations in Jewel Cave cave formations in Jewel Cave
a floor formation a floor formation.

Below: A long ribbon drapery called the cave bacon. The variation in color looked a lot like bacon fat. 

the cave bacon the cave bacon

Another tour group in the upper room

 
upper room of the cave cave formation
beauty in Jewel Cave cave walls

Below: An unique design in the walls at Jewel Cave

An unique design in the walls at Jewel Cave An unique design in the walls at Jewel Cave
beauty in the cave walls cave formations
cave formations

Below: Outside of the cave was an ad for the Wild Caving Tour and a stone opening so kids and adults could see if they were capable of crawling through such tight spots.

wild side ad kid crawling

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go to the next adventure of the two RV GypsiesA quick comparison of several caves

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