With more than 123 miles surveyed, Jewel Cave is recognized
as the third longest cave in the
world. Airflow within its passages indicates a vast area yet to be explored. Cave tours provide opportunities for viewing this pristine cave system and its wide variety of speleothems including stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, frostwork, flowstone, boxwork and hydromagnesite balloons. The cave is an important hibernaculum for several species of bats.
Basic Information for Jewel Cave National Monument
Operating Hours and Operating Seasons for Jewel Cave
Daily, summer: 8:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. MDT. During the winter, hours for visitation may vary, but generally the Visitor Center is open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with the exception of Thanksgiving Day, December 25th and January 1.
How to Get to Jewel Cave National Monument
PLANE - Nearest Commercial Air Service is in Rapid City,
SD or in Omaha,
CAR - The main Visitor Center and cave entrance is thirteen
miles west of
Custer, South Dakota on RT 16, 24 miles east of Newcastle, Wyoming on RT 16 and 54 miles from Rapid City, South Dakota via RT 16 & 16 -385. The Historic Area cave entrance and log cabin Ranger Station are located one mile west of the Visitor Center turnoff on RT 16.
Weather & Climate
Summer highs may exceed 100 Degrees Fahrenheit, with lows in the 60's. Fall and Spring temperatures are milder, with highs in the 70's and 80's. Winter temperatures range from highs in the 40's and 50's to lows well below freezing. Snow is usually light to moderate.
The Ranger Station and restrooms are wheelchair accessible. Trails are uneven and primitive. Some trails can be negotiated with assistance and rough terrain chairs.
Camping in Jewel Cave National Monument
None in park. Available nearby
Activities and More Information at Jewel
Cave National Monument
Visitor Center Area:
Information is available at the Visitor Center as well as interpretive exhibits, The Jewel Cave map (a 7.5 foot by 18 foot working "document"), interactive computers, videos, cave entrance for Scenic and Spelunking tours, and restroom facilities. Cave tour tickets for the Scenic, Historic and Spelunking tours are also available here. Picnic areas are adjacent to the parking area.
Information for the Historic Candlelight Tour is available at the log cabin Ranger Station (listed on the National Register of Historic Structures). Limited exhibits and a small book sales area are also located at this cabin. Information on the " Walk on the Roof " and "Canyons trail can be acquired here. Tickets for the Historic Candlelight Tour are purchased at the Visitor Center. The Ranger Station in the Historic Area is the departure point for the Historic Candlelight Tour. The Historic Area is open during the summer months from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Restroom facilities and a picnic area are available in the Historic Area.
Two hiking trails exist at the monument, a 1/4 mile loop and a 3.5 mile loop. These trails provide an opportunity to become more familiar with the natural resources, wildlife and geologic surface features at the monument. No bicycles are allowed on the trails. Inquire at the Visitor Center or Log Cabin Ranger Station for maps and more information. Adjacent to the Monument is a 5.5 mile USFS trail. Call the United States Forest Service office in Custer for further information (605) 673-2251.
Scenic Tours of Jewel Cave are offered year round. Additional cave tours (Historic Candlelight Tour and Spelunking Tour) are offered during summer months. Guided Walks and Surface Talks are offered Memorial Day to Labor Day. A Junior Ranger program is available year round for ages 13 and under.
Geology of Jewel Cave National Monument is closely related to the general geology of the area known as the Black Hills.
During the Mississipian time period, between 330 million years bp(before present)and 350 million years bp, the area was believed to be covered by a sea. Fossil forms of marine animals suggest that the sea was shallow. These include brachiopods, bryzoans, corals and sponges. Deposits of sediment built up on the bottom of this ocean as shells and detritinal material accumulated. After a period of accumulation, the overlying beds crushed the beds below and released Calcium Carbonate or "lime," which then formed up the Paha Sapa Limestone as we know it today. The Paha Sapa limestone has a present thickness of approximately 400 feet.
During the late Cretaceous Period(approximately 65 million years bp) uplifting of the centeral core of the Black Hills began. Magma bodies pushed up from below, pushing the overlying beds upward causing a dome to form. The magma bodies did not break the surface and cooled deep beneath the sediment above. After erosion exposed the magma structures, they appeared as the "Needles" and Harney Peak Granite as we know them today. If you were to view the Black Hills from above, you could easily recognize the domed stucture and the exposed granite spires in its centeral core. This structure is sometimes referred to as the "Island on the Plains" since it is a dome structure surrounded by the lower prarie of the Great Plains. As the dome uplifted it not only pushed up the overlying beds, it also cracked them. Limestone easily cracks and shatters under pressure. With this cracking, the stage is set for the main developement of the cave.
The fracturing of the beds exposed the limestone to air and water where it hadn't been exposed before. The cracks filled with water and became the water table . Limestone is somewhat impermeable to water and does not allow the water to pass through it readily. Water will not dissolve limestone. Water, therefore, had little effect on the cave formation directly. Indirectly, however, it had a great effect. Water combined with carbon dioxide creates carbonic acid. Although carbonic acid is a weak acid, it will readily attack the limestone and help take it into solution. Acids from the soils as well as carbonic acid seeped into cracks created by the uplifting and began to dissolve the sides of the cracks forming passeways. The solutions of calcium carbonate and acids were probably carried from the cave structure and released through springs at the surface. This could have happened many times over the course of cave formation and the rise and fall of the water table. At some point in this rising and falling of the water table, drainage was blocked. Now the acidic solutions had a long time to dissolve the inside of the cracks. In fact, the dissolving process lasted so long, that the solutions reached saturation. With saturation, and the release of some of the carbon dioxide in solution, the calcium carbonate began to drop out of solution. This precipitation of the minerals created the thicknesses of calcite crystal that we see coating the walls of Jewel Cave today.
Is the process continuing today? In a sense it is. The wet formations that we find in the cave today are still in the process of formation. They are formed of tiny calcium carbonate crystals precipitated from solution as carbonic acid "degasses" or loses it's carbon dioxide. Since water cannot "hold" the calcium carbonate in solution, it is deposited out at the end of a stalagtite, drapery, or along a flowstone.
Are the crystals that line the walls still forming? Probably not, but since natural changes take place so very slowly, we may have to rely on future generations of speleologists to find out through comparisons of the photos of today with the photos of the future.
The Scenic Tour provides an opportunity to visit chambers decorated with calcite crystals and other speleothems, while walking on a paved trail. The tour enters and leaves the cave by elevator from the Visitor Center. This tour is considered moderately strenuous. The tour route is 1/2 mile long, with 723 stairs. The tour lasts approximately 1-1/2 hours.
Historic Tour The Historic
Tour is a 1930's style adventure. Visitors, carrying lanterns provided by the Monument, enter and leave the cave through the historic entrance and view the cave from an unpaved trail. This tour is considered strenuous. The tour route is 1/2 mile long, includes some steep wooden steps, and requires some bending and stooping. The tour lasts approximately 1-3/4 hours. Participants must be at least six years old. Tickets for the Historic Tour can be purchased at the Visitor Center.
The Spelunking Tour is designed for visitors who prefer to experience the cave in its natural state. Participants hike, climb and crawl their way through 2/3 mile of cave, while learning about low-impact caving, caving techniques and safety, and caving equipment. This tour lasts 4-5 hours and is considered extremely strenuous. Reservations are required and may be obtained up to 30 days in advance. Interested parties should contact the Monument for additional information.
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