Mount Rushmore Area Caves - Jewel Cave and Wind Cave
Hidden among mixed-grass prairie and forests of ponderosa pine lie two of the country's largest cave systems, and what many spelunkers consider the finest exploration available the world over. Jewel Cave Monument and Wind Cave National Park bring mystery, beauty, and geological phenomenon to the Black Hills.
Mount Rushmore Area - Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave National Park covers 28,295 acres of forest and mixed-grass prairie, one of the few remaining patches of the habitat. The herds of bison, pronghorn and elk introduced in the early 1900's call the park home, and are used to refuel breeding efforts across the country. Trails throughout the park boast mesmerizing views, of landscape and wildlife, making the park itself an experience all of its own.
Below the surface, however, is where Wind Cave truly shines. Discovered in 1881 by brothers, Tom and Jesse Bingham, the whistling push and pull of air from the mouth of the cave was the first aspect to draw interest. Its complexity gained attention as more than 111 miles of the 87 passageways and chambers were explored. The 5th largest cave network in the U.S., and the 8th in the world, Wind Cave is also thought to be the oldest, with formations dating back over 300 million years. A lake fills the bottom chambers of the cave. Flat deposits of calcite, called "rafts", float upon the water, submerging only when the surface breaks.
Tours of Wind Cave give visitors a glimpse at rare and impressive underground formations, including "The Garden of Eden" and "The Dungeon." Also seen is a rare honeycomb-like design, called box work, created over centuries with the help of limestone. Tours require a lot of walking, and warm clothing, as the average temperature of the cave is 53 degrees year round.
Mount Rushmore Area - Jewel Cave National Monument
To the west, Jewel Cave National Monument rests below the surface, shrouded in pine forest host to a similar spread of wildlife. Hiking and bird watching are very popular near the monument, though visitors almost exclusively come to tour this mysterious cave.
Considered one of the most fascinating in the world, Jewel Cave provides a glimpse at an astonishing number of rock formations - from the popcorn-like clusters of calcite crystals reflecting brilliant bursts of purples and greens, to the hydromagnesite balloons originally discovered in its own passages. While brothers Frank and Albert Michaud must have thought the calcite an amazing treasure, the rewards continue.
Jewel Cave is the 3rd longest cave system in the world. Over 127 miles of its passageways have been charted, with more waiting to be uncovered. It may, in fact, be connected to the Wind Cave system, 30 miles east. Over six species of bat inhabit Jewel Cave, and its chambers house the largest hibernating colony of Townsend big-ears in the world. Impeccably preserved, the formations, chambers and passageways have been saved from much of the damage found in most areas, making it a spelunker's dream come true.
The popularity and success of Jewel Cave National Monument tours are no surprise. Visitors climb their way through an underground menagerie of stalactites, draperies, cauliflower and flowstone formations. The temperature of Jewel Cave is lower, calling for jackets and gloves, and stroller access is so limited that visitors are not encouraged to bring young children.
Mystery and adventure flow through the Black Hills, from the majesty of Mt. Rushmore to exhilarating rides aboard the 1880 Train, but nowhere is this more enveloping than at the land's big cave systems. The oldest, the longest, the largest, the most exciting - Jewel and Wind Caves offer travelers a comprehensive caving experience in one simple package.