As the vacation in South Dakota was coming to an end, we had time to visit just one more place before driving to the airport. Since Wind Cave was so amazing, we decided to check out Jewel Cave National Monument. We were lucky enough to get tickets for the guided tour at noon just before it started. Jewel Cave is currently the third longest cave in the world with 193 miles of mapped passage. The cave was discovered in 1900 and it was covered in calcite crystals which looked like jewels, hence the name. President Teddy Roosevelt made it national monument in 1908.
When Frank and Albert Michaud discovered the cave in 1900 and used it as a tourist attraction to make money. Lack of people living in the region and difficulty traveling during those days made it difficult for them to keep it up as a tourist attraction. In 1908 Frank and Albert sold their claim for $750 to the government. Systematic exploration of the cave started in the 1950s and continues today. Some people believe Jewel cave might be connected to Wind Cave with is 30 miles east. Like other caves, the temperature in this cave is at a constant 49 degree F.
At the start of the scenic tour, you take an elevator down 234 feet to Target room. During the tour you walk along a paved path but be prepared to climb up and down 732 stairs during the half mile loop. Along the path you see lots of formations like nailhead spar, dogtooth spar, boxwork (but not as much as Wind Cave), cave popcorn, and cave bacon. This cave also has stalactite and stalagmite formations.
The deepest part of the cave is 832 feet but the scenic tour only takes you 379 feet deep. The rest of the cave is not accessible during this tour. The cave is also home to 9 different species of bats. Luckily, we did not encounter any of them during our tour. The cave is only about 15 minutes from Custer, SD and so close to Mount Rushmore, yet only 87,000 people visit every year.
A few things to keep in mind when visiting:
- Buy tickets to the guided tour in advance. During peak season they do sell out
- There is no food available at this monument so grab a bite to eat before the tour starts
- Bring a light sweater/jacket and wear close toed shoes
- Photography is allowed in the cave so have fun
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