As the story of the discovery of Jewel Cave goes, we thought that it could be said that the cave "discovered" humans.
It was a blast of cold air from a small hole in the ground that caught the attention of brothers Frank and Albert Michaud in 1900. After enlarging the opening with dynamite, they entered the cave, discovering 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.
During the following decade, they constructed a trail within the cave and built a lodge up on the rim of Hell Canyon.
In 1908, President Roosevelt proclaimed the cave a National Monument, and the Michaud brothers sold their interest to the government.
At the beginning of 1959, approximately two miles of Jewel Cave had been discovered. Even though the cave was beautifully decorated with calcite spar crystals, the tour route was short, and some wondered whether this small cave was truly of national significance.
Then a geologist Dwight Deal and two rock-climbing enthusiasts, Herb and Jan Conn, began to explore within Jewel Cave. The Conns were particularly dedicated to exploring and mapping new passages, and by 1961, they had extended the known length of the cave to more than 15 miles.
Today, Jewel Cave, located about an hour southwest of Rapid City, SD, is the second-longest cave in the world. With the addition of the discovery of new trails, the current length is 154 miles. Not only is that a staggering statistic in and of itself, but consider that this entire length is located under a land surface of only three-and-one-half square miles! And... it is estimated that this charted length represents only about two percent of the cave's total length!
This map of the cave (above and left) shows the passages (levels and size) and features (passages up or down, location of water pools, and dimensions of the large rooms).
Of the two tours available, we took the Discovery Tour (20 minutes, 15 stair steps) rather than the Scenic Tour (80 minutes, 723 stair steps). The photos here were taken on the tour and show two types of calcite crystals commonly named nailhead spar (above) and
dogtooth spar (left), which are the "jewels" of Jewel Cave.
The photos shown above were taken in a large room at the tour's beginning and show the size of the room and the colors of the cave.