Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument, South Dakota

October 15, 2015

Wind Cave is a national park, so there is an area to see on the surface. You can view wildlife such as bison and prairie dogs.

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Bison

Discovered in 1881 by brothers Tom and Jesse Bingham, the whistling push and pull of air from the mouth of the cave was the first aspect to draw interest.

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Its complexity gained attention as more than 111 miles of the 87 passageways and chambers were explored. The 5th largest cave network in the U.S., and the 8th in the world, Wind Cave is also thought to be the oldest, with formations dating back over 300 million years.

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Box work

A lake fills the bottom chambers of the cave. Flat deposits of calcite, called "rafts", float upon the water, submerging only when the surface breaks.

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Tours of Wind Cave give visitors a glimpse at rare and impressive underground formations, including "The Garden of Eden" and "The Dungeon."

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Also seen is a rare honeycomb-like design, called box work, created over centuries with the help of limestone. Tours require a lot of walking, and warm clothing, as the average temperature of the cave is 53 degrees year round.

Jewel Cave is simply the cave; it's a national monument.

The Scenic Tour is the most popular tour of Jewel Cave. The tour enters and leaves the cave by elevator in the Visitor Center. The Scenic Tour is moderately strenuous and lasts 1 hour and 20 minutes.

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Jewel Cave Underground Exit

The tour route involves walking up and down 723 stair steps along a 1/2 mile loop, (equivalent to 40 flights of stairs).

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Jewel Cave provides a glimpse at an astonishing number of rock formations - from the popcorn-like clusters of calcite crystals reflecting brilliant bursts of purples and greens, to the hydromagnesite balloons originally discovered in its own passages.

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Spar Crystals

Jewel Cave is the 3rd longest cave system in the world. Over 127 miles of its passageways have been charted, with more waiting to be uncovered.

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Spar Crystals cover much of the walls in some sections of the cave

It may, in fact, be connected to the Wind Cave system, 30 miles east.

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Over six species of bat inhabit Jewel Cave, and its chambers house the largest hibernating colony of Townsend big-ears in the world.

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Impeccably preserved, the formations, chambers and passageways have been saved from much of the damage found in most areas, making it a spelunker's dream come true.

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The temperature of Jewel Cave is lower, calling for warm clothing.

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Jewel Cave was formed by the gradual dissolution of limestone by stagnant, acid-rich water.

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The water enlarged a network of cracks that had formed during the uplift of the Black Hills approximately 60 million years ago.

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Calcite crystals

The layer of calcite crystals that covers much of the cave walls was created by the re-deposition of calcite from water saturated with the mineral.

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After the water that formed the cave drained, speleothems (cave formations) began to form.

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Jewel Cave contains all the common types of calcite formations, such as stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone, and frostwork, although not in the same abundance as other well-known caves.

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Cave bacon

The dry parts of the cave contain some formations created by the deposition of gypsum, such as gypsum needles, beards, flowers, and spiders.

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Finishing the tour

The hydromagnesite balloons I was writing earlier are created when gas of an unknown source inflates a pasty substance formed by the precipitation of the magnesium carbonate hydroxide mineral.

Map

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Driving distance from Vancouver:
2,071 km (1,286 mi)
Driving time from Vancouver: Approx. 20 hours