Trip Start May 06, 2010
137Trip End Oct 14, 2010
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Where I stayed
I took the 1 hour 20 minute Scenic Tour. You first go down an elevator over 200 feet and step into the cave. Most of the walls are covered with calcite crystals. There are some other formations on the tour but calcite crystals are by far the most common decoration. The cave has been a national monument since 1908 but until 1959 when a couple local rock climbers started to explore it less than two miles of passageways were known. Now Jewel Cave is the second longest cave system in the world with over 150 miles of known passageways. The areas discovered since 1959 include everything on the Scenic Tour. Unlike most of our national parks where most of the infrastructure is from the CCC days, everything on this tour from the Visitors' Center to the elevator to the walkways in the cave is new, although the roads and trails were built by the CCC.
The Scenic Tour covers a half mile horizontally and 723 steps vertically. They don't tell you that there are many more steps down than up. You get on the elevator to get out at a much lower level than where you entered the cave. For much of the tour you are going up and down metal stairs through vertical shafts.
As I mentioned, most of the decorations are calcite crystals. Most of them are rather dull and don't glisten the way you probably think crystals would although they do in some parts of the cave. The tour covers areas with stalagmites, stalactites, popcorn, ribbons, soda straws and draperies. It may not be as large as Mammoth Cave, which I visited a few days ago, but it's much more decorated and much more attractive.
Tomorrow I'm going to go to Wind Cave National Park and try and get on a tour. They don't take reservations so it's all first-come, first-served. Then I head for Badlands National Park.