Thursday, May 07, 2009
At the Mt. Rushmore office I plundered their supply of National Parks pamphlets looking for other sites of interest in the area. The road from New Castle to Mt. Rushmore passed a turnoff for Jewel Cave National Monument, and the site looked like the more interesting and the closest of the two federally administered caves in the area (the other being Wind Cave.)
Jewel cave got its name from its many beautiful cave formations, especially the 'popcorn' and the crystals the dot the cave walls. For many years after it's designation as a national monument in 1908 Jewel cave was known only as a particularly beautiful cave, but in the late 1950's that changed.
A pair of local cavers on an exploration mission found that the cave kept going, and going, and going. When we visited in January, a little bit over 130 miles of cave had been mapped. As of May 3rd the total explored area of the cave measures 145.17 mile, making it the second longest known cave in the world, behind Mammoth Cave (360+ miles long)in Kentucky. However, neither Mammoth nor Jewel cave have been fully explored, and wind sensor readings say that there will be new passages to map in Jewel cave for a long time to come.
We really lucked out with traveling in the off season (again), with just Michael, myself and one other tourist on the cave tour. The guide said that often in the summer months the tours sell out, with over 50 people in each tour group. Obviously, we got a much more personalized experience, and had a great time interacting with the park ranger who led us around the 'scenic' tour.