Jewel Cave, SD

by Spaceman One-Seven August. 06, 2018 555 views

Scenic Tour Route

Jewel Cave National Monument is a cave located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and the third largest cave on the planet. It was discovered in 1900 by two ranchers, Frank and Al Michaud, who were riding on horseback from Newcastle, WY to Custer, SD. Their route took them through Hell Canyon, and while there, they heard a whistling or wind sound coming from the canyon wall. Upon investigation, they discovered a hole that was venting cold, humid air. When they enlarged the hole, they found a cave that was lined with crystal - the jewels of Jewel Cave.

Years later, as the number of visitors rose, the Park Service selected a 1/2 mile route through the cave to establish their "Scenic Tour". These photos were all taken along the Scenic Tour route.

In the photo below, our intrepid caver is proceeding along the Scenic Tour route. The bumps on the cave wall to his left show the crystal that line the walls of the cave.

When the cave was filled with water, the minerals that make up the crystal were in solution. Millions of years ago, there was a change in temperature, and the minerals (mostly calcite) precipitated on any part of the cave that was under water. This is a shot straight up - every little bump is calcite crystal. The different colors result from other minerals (mostly iron oxide and manganese) mixing with the crystal during formation.

So far, discovered areas of Jewel Cave are mostly dry areas - areas where ground water does not enter the space. However, there is a spot on the Scenic Tour which is under a canyon, so the protective layers above the cave have eroded away, allowing ground water to enter the area and form traditional cave features.

Here are some photos from the wet portion of the cave...

These formations are called draperies...

This is flowstone...

You can see these in/near a portion of the Scenic Tour called the Formation Room. Here are some views of/from that room. In this wide shot, you can see draperies, some stalactites, the calcite crystal that was deposited there millions of years ago and, in the center, a large mass of flowstone.

One of the formations that is quite remarkable is Jewel's "Cave Bacon". Visitors are always surprised at the size of this one and by how appropriate the name is. It is about 28 feet long, and I'll let you be the judge of how closely it resembles its namesake....

Cave photography presents its own set of challenges - often, the dynamic range between something that is illuminated and the inky black areas of the cave is quite large. It makes photographing large areas that much more difficult. I wanted to experiment with that, so, for this last photo, I balanced the camera on a handrail and did a 20 second exposure. During the exposure, I turned on my flashlight and did my best to illuminate the dark areas. More experiments to come, I think.

PS - the walkway in the lower part of the photo is about the width of a sidewalk (to give you some sense of scale).

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