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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Jewel Cave‏

May 21st, 2010 · No Comments

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Just 25 miles separate Wind Cave from Jewel Cave. But the two caves aren’t at all alike and are almost certainly not connected.

I visited Jewel Cave National Monument on Friday morning. I took the 1/2 mile 1 1/4 hour scenic tour in which we climbed up and down more than 700 steps.

We saw only the smallest fraction of this immense cave. Jewel Cave now ranks as the second longest cave in the world (after Mammoth Cave in Kentucky) with 150 miles of mapped passageways.

But even that is probably only about 2 percent of the total volume of the cave. That’s based on how much the air volume that the cave “exhales” when the outside air pressure drops and “inhales” when the outside air pressure rises, according to Wikipedia.

Wind Cave, of course, breathes too. But Jewel Cave is cooler (49 degrees) and not quite as humid (95 percent humidity). Wind Cave has lots of boxwork formations, while calcite crystals that covers much of Jewel Cave’s walls.

When two South Dakota prospectors discovered Jewel Cave in 1900, they mistook the calcite crystals for jewels, hence the cave’s name. But while the cave’s formations have no monetary value, they have great otherworldly beauty.

I’m still marveling at the rich colors I saw down in a place of absolute darkness. Here are some of the photographs I took to show you:

A Yellow Flow

A Yellow Flow

Click on the picture above to enlarge

Like Many Fingers

Like Many Fingers

Click on the picture above to enlarge

A Stalactite Like a Hard Carrot

A Stalactite Like a Hard Carrot

Click on the picture above to enlarge

The Bacon Formation

The Bacon Formation

Click on the picture above to enlarge

A Red Crystal on the Cave's Ceiling

A Red Crystal on the Cave's Ceiling

Click on the picture above to enlarge

Exploration of the cave continues. But I won’t be one of the spelunkers. I’m still too big.

“Only the grittiest skinniest cavers in the world…can…get past a 1,800-foot-long section of the cave known as the Miseries, because of how grueling and impossibly cramped it is,” one visitor explained. “After the Miseries, what they discovered was even more fun — the Mini-Miseries. Don’t want to have a fear of being buried alive when you come near it. Surpassing and triumphing over the Mini-Miseries in their explorations brought them face to face then with what a true challenge is — the Calorie Counter, where for 200 feet, you have to bellycrawl and wriggle through an opening only 7 inches high.”

Some people might consider that a fun vacation. The half-mile I walked was enough for me.

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Posted in: Photography, South Dakota

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