South Dakota 2019, Day 8: Jewel Cave (July 27)

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Another early morning in the Badlands. Again we tried to get out of Dodge before the heat, and again we mostly succeeded.

We retraced our route back to the Black Hills before turning for our last destination of the trip— Jewel Cave. Since the cave in Wind Cave was closed for the summer for an elevator repair (as of March 2020, the elevator is still closed), we had a difficult time getting a reservation at Jewel- the last day of the trip was the only slot available.

We got there early and had plenty of time for Nate to do a fairly elaborate set of tasks to earn a Junior Ranger badge. We looked at exhibits, and I squeezed my way through a caving test made from cinderblocks. It made it by shimmying through on my back, inching forward on the exhales.

Finally it was time for the tour. We lined up and took an elevator down after a lecture and safety briefing. The cave circuit was on metal walkways and stairs. Underneath the passageways were piled up boulders and rocks. For some reason I expected flat passages, which… makes so sense at all when I think about it.

There were lots of formations:

  • Nailhead spar- calcite crystals with blunt points
  • Dogtooth spar- calcite crystals with sharp points (the “jewels” of Jewel Cave).
Nailhead spar
Nailhead spar
Wall of nailhead spar
Wall of nailhead spar
Dogtooth spar
Dogtooth spar

Spar formations were the most common. As we continued, we eventually came across more.

  • Boxwork
  • Flowstone
  • Stalactites
  • Stalagmite
  • Soda straw (just one)
  • Drapery (including a formation known as the cave bacon)
Boxwork
Boxwork
Flowstone
Flowstone
Stalactites
Stalactites
Soda straw
Soda straw
Cave Bacon
Cave Bacon

In the middle of the tour was the traditional “turn off the lights and experience pure blackness” episode. Pretty creepy and eerie.

It was cold in the cave, but we dressed appropriately. After a little over an hour, it was time to ascend to the daylight above. I definitely want to visit more caves and maybe a “real” trip (guided, of course) some day.

We made our way out of the park and into the car. We had great light and big thunderstorms as we finished another four hours of driving to reach home.

South Dakota was a fun trip, certainly more fun than any of us expected. I’d go back to any of these places again.

Jewel Cave on Strava- an hour walk, plus a walk to the parking lot. Why is my GPS track so short? 🤪

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