This is the third, and final post, in a series about our May, 2017 trip to South Dakota.
Jewel Cave National Monument, 13 miles West of Custer, South Dakota, is a spelunker’s delight. Let me rephrase that. I assume Jewel Cave National Monument is a spelunker’s delight. I have never voluntarily crawled through damp, dark, unholy spaces and slept on a bed of stone. I have, however, taken a guided tour of Jewel Cave.
From Flop to Public Gem
Frank and Albert Michaud discovered the cave in 1900 and turned it into a tourist attraction. A lack of visitors made the venture a flop, so in 1908, Albert sold the site to the U.S. Government for $750.
Today, this gem (pun intended) is part of the National Park Service. Park rangers offer four guided tours.
- Discovery Talk: A wheelchair accessible 20 minute visit to a large room in the cave
- Scenic Tour: A one hour and 20 minute walking tour of lighted passages and stairways
- Historic Lantern Tour: A one hour and 45 minute tour of the historic entrance and trail by lantern light
- Wild Caving Tour: A three to four hour caving experience for crazy people who enjoy crawling through 8.5 x 24 inch holes
We took the Scenic Tour. Although the tour involves 732 stairs, the elevator into the cave and lighted passageways make it a moderate option for those of us not inclined to squeeze through impossibly small crawl spaces.
Jewel Cave is the third longest cave in the world, yet only 3 to 5 percent has been explored. Since it is part of the National Park Service, Jewel Cave exploration is open to the public.
In other words, spelunkers can volunteer to explore, survey, and map unknown parts of the cave. The only requirements are prior caving experience and the ability to fit through tight spaces.
Oh, and the willingness to stay underground for up to four days and carry out your equipment, trash, and human waste.
That’s right, folks, at the end of four days of crawling, squirming, and fighting off insanity, you have to carry out your own pee and poop.