s/y Nine of Cups
Jewel Cave National Monument & Wind Cave National Park - South Dakota
June 2012
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At more than 160 miles in length, Jewel Cave is currently the second longest cave in the
world. Airflow indicates there is a lot of cave yet to be discovered.
The “jewels” of Jewel Cave are calcite spar crystals
and have little commercial value.
The earliest written account of Jewel Cave is a mining claim filed by Frank and Albert Michaud in 1900. The brothers described
the entrance as a hole that was too small for human entry, with a blast of cold air coming out. After subsequent enlargement with
dynamite, they entered the cave  and discovered crawlways and low-ceilinged rooms coated with beautiful calcite crystals that
sparkled like "jewels" in their lantern light. The Michauds filed the "Jewel Tunnel Lode" mining claim in Custer on October 31,
1900. Although calcite crystals had little commercial value, it is apparent that they intended to develop this natural wonder into a
tourist attraction.

Lack of visitors, primarily due to slowness and difficulty of travel, rendered the mine unsuccessful as a tourist attraction at the
time. A local movement to set Jewel Cave aside for preservation culminated in the proclamation of the cave as a National
Monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908. The Michaud brothers eventually moved away and their family sold the
claim to the government for about $750.
Jewel Cave is not just an underground
experience. The 1279 acre park is  located
in a Ponderosa pine forest and documents
120 species of birds and 393 plant species
within its environs.
Several ranger-led underground tours are available at the park. We opted for the Scenic Tour, a 1/2 mile, 1+ hour loop that climbs up and
down over 700 stairs along a dimly lit path. Our group of 20 descended down steep stairs to discover the wonders below. Cave popcorn, the
"jewels" and drapery that looked like calcified jellyfish caught our attention.
Wind Cave National Park is not far from
Jewel Cave National Monument although we
were told the cave systems were not

Hidden beneath the rolling prairie of the
southern Black Hills, Wind Cave is one of
the world’s longest caves... the world's 5th
longest cave to be exact. A labyrinth of
rooms, crawlways and passages, Wind Cave
became a national park in 1903 and is the
nation's 7th oldest national park.
Long, thin ribbons of mineral
deposits known as cave bacon
Marcie is not much of a spelunker or
caver. In fact, she's a bit distressed in
close situations...like tight places several
hundred feet underground. Suffice it to
say, a guided tour worked well for us
and she was relieved when we climbed
the final steps back to sunlight and the
great outdoors.
Once again, we signed up for a
ranger-led guided tour. This time we
chose "The Natural Entrance Tour"
which lasted about 1-1/2 hours and
required negotiating about 450 steps.
The brochure called it moderately
strenuous, but it was pretty easy. Though
we saw the "natural entrance", we
entered via stairs and an elevator.
Wind Cave is known for its
"boxwork", an  uncommon type of
calcite mineral structure formed by
erosion rather than accretion.
We found the pathway pretty
skinny at times.
We'd been spoiled at other national parks
that we'd visited earlier in the season. These
parks were crowded as were the tours.
20-40 people in close ranks  traipsing up
and down stairs, trying to hear what the tour
guide was saying while trying to appreciate
our surroundings was not conducive to
enjoying the caves.
Wind Cave frostwork
Hydromagnesite balloons are rare and
found in few caves throughout the
world. We didn't actually see any, just
heard about them.
Photo nicked from NPS
Wind Cave was named for barometric
winds at its entrance, very noticeable as
pressure inside the cave attempts to
maintain equilibrium with the air outside.