Jewel Cave National Monument

Jewel Cave National Monument

History

History & Culture

Early Jewel Cave History

The earliest written account of Jewel Cave is a mining claim filed by Frank and Albert Michaud in 1900. The brothers described the entrance as a hole that was too small for human entry, with a blast of cold air coming out. After subsequent enlargement with dynamite, they entered the cave with Charles Bush, a friend of the family, discovering crawlways and low-ceilinged rooms coated with beautiful calcite crystals that sparkled like "jewels" in their lantern light.

The Michauds filed the "Jewel Tunnel Lode" mining claim in Custer on October 31, 1900. Although calcite crystals had little commercial value, it is apparent that they intended to develop this natural wonder into a tourist attraction. During the following decade, they constructed a trail within the cave, built a lodge up on the rim of Hell Canyon, and even organized the "Jewel Cave Dancing Club" in 1902 to attract tourists. However, a lack of people in this region and the difficulty of travel at that time made the tourist venture anything but a financial success. Frank Michaud bought out Charles Bush's share of the cave in 1905 for $300. For a while, Frank continued to work at the cave, exploring and keeping up the annual assessment work

Jewel Cave National Monument A local movement to set Jewel Cave aside for preservation culminated in the proclamation of the cave as a National Monument by President Theodore Roosevelt on February 7, 1908. The Michaud brothers eventually moved away and their family sold the claim to the government for about $750.

In 1928, a group of businessmen formed the Jewel Cave Corporation and provided tours to the public. This continued until 1939. The National Park Service began administering the monument in 1933 and park rangers from Wind Cave came to the monument in the summer.

The Civilian Conservation Corps established a camp at Jewel Cave in May 1935. Twenty-five men, with a budget of $1,500, accomplished several projects for the Park Service. A three-room cabin and comfort stations were built. Sewage and water connections were completed for the cabin and public campground. The cave entrance was altered to provide easier access, and a surface trail of approximately 800 feet was constructed, along with a new stone stairway. The Michaud's original log building was removed at this time.

In 1939, a National Park Service Ranger was stationed at the monument and began conducting cave tours and providing visitor services. The cabin became home to the monument's first permanent ranger in 1941. Except for a brief period of closure during World War II, NPS rangers staffed the cabin and cave tour operation. Then, in the late 1950s, significant discoveries were made within the cave, which lead to development of a new visitor center and cave tour route.

Recent History

At the beginning of 1959, approximately two miles of Jewel Cave had been discovered. Even though the cave was beautifully decorated with calcite spar crystals, the tour route was short, and some wondered whether this small cave was truly of national significance.

Then a geologist by the name of Dwight Deal enlisted the aid of two rock-climbing enthusiasts, Herb and Jan Conn, to help him explore within Jewel Cave. The Conns were particularly dedicated to exploring and mapping new passages, and by 1961, they had extended the known length of the cave to more than 15 miles. By then, the National Park Service had become interested in developing additional tour routes for the public to visit.

The initial discovery of the "Scenic Area" of the cave took place in 1961. But because the original boundaries of the National Monument dated back to a time when most of the cave was unknown, these new cave passages were actually outside of those boundaries, beneath U.S. Forest Service lands. In order to proceed with plans to develop a new tour route and visitor center, a land exchange with the Forest Service was accomplished in 1965, changing the monument boundaries. Construction of the present scenic area cave trail, the elevator shafts, one elevator, the visitor center, maintenance area, and parking lot began in 1966 and took nearly 5½ years to complete. The Scenic Cave Tour route and visitor center were first opened for touring on May 28, 1972.

Exploration of the cave continues, providing park managers with an increasing amount of information to use for future protection of this impressive resource.

The Jasper Fire

On August 24, 2000 an enormous wildfire started just west of Jewel Cave. Named the Jasper Fire, it burned a total of 83,508 acres in the southern Black Hills and approximately 90% of the land area of Jewel Cave National Monument.

Jewel Cave was evacuated at around 4:30 p.m. that day, and remained closed until September 2nd, when the danger had passed and the fire was nearly contained. As the fire swept through the monument, important documents, maps, and computers were brought into the cave for safekeeping.

Due to the hot, dry conditions and an abundance of fuel on the forest floor, the fire spread quickly and with severe intensity. In just the first day, the fire consumed an average of about seven football fields of forest per minute.

Firefighting efforts saved all of the structures on the monument. The recently restored historical cabin near the cave entrance was foamed several times to save it from the fire.

Seven Years Later

On your visit to Jewel Cave, you will certainly see evidence of the Jasper Fire. Many of the burned trees have begun to fall, causing closures of the hiking trails on windy days. Some of the trees that survived the fire exhibit brown pine needles and black bark. The forest floor, no longer thick with ash, hosts a variety of plants that have rebounded since the fire.

Cave Exploration

Why explore Jewel Cave?

The physical and mental challenges provided by cave exploration address a deep-seated human desire to venture beyond the known into the frontier. Exploring cave passages where no one has ever been before is certainly exciting, and it also provides important information required for both cave and surface management.

It is imperative for the continued protection of Jewel Cave that managers learn where the cave is in relation to surface features. For this reason cave explorers must meticulously survey each passage that they find, and create a detailed map.

Cave Explorers

Past and Present Jewel Cave Explorers

Dwight Deal

In 1959, Dwight Deal, a graduate student from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, came to the Black Hills. Fresh out of college, Dwight had taken a job with an oil company in nearby Wyoming. He was an active member of the National Speleological Society, and had plenty of enthusiasm and scientific knowledge to fuel his desire to explore caves. Dwight's job allowed him weekends free to devote to cave exploration, and he had become aware of Jewel Cave through a group of cavers from Colorado who had been surveying nearby Wind Cave. He joined them one weekend for a special trip into Jewel Cave, then approached the National Park Service about getting permission to continue surveying there. He was granted a Special Use Permit, but was told that in order to use it in Jewel Cave, he would have to have at least two other people go with him. Dwight had become acquainted with Herb and Jan Conn when they were all still living in the East, and knew they were now in the Black Hills. He persuaded the Conns to join him. On the first few trips, Dwight instructed Herb and Jan in the art of surveying the cave while exploring its passageways. By the spring of 1961, Dwight had moved away from the Black Hills, but not before over 5 miles (8 km) of cave had been mapped. He returned in the summer of 1961 to work on a master's thesis on the geology of Jewel Cave for the University of Wyoming. In May of 1962, Dwight Deal did an inspection tour of the proposed new cave tour route. It was a 4-hour trip to the "Formation Room", but he was so impressed by the beauty of the dripstone deposits on top of the crystals that he recommended in writing to the park superintendent that an effort be made to provide public access to this area. His efforts are rewarded with each tour group that enters that room on the Scenic Tour and gasps in delight at this impressive stop on the route.

Herb & Jan Conn

At the Historic Entrance Herb and Jan Conn began a lifelong connection to the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1946. Both were born and raised on the East Coast, and during WWII, Herb worked as an electrical engineer for the Navy Department in Washington, DC. Although this adventurous young couple had first been exposed to cave exploration in West Virginia, their real love at that time was rock climbing, a hobby they had developed on the cliffs of the Potomac. In 1946 they decided to leave the Washington, DC area and head west to practice rock-climbing full time. Over the next few years the Conns traveled extensively, working wherever and whenever they needed to to support their climbing. They worked in resorts, factories, for a furniture manufacturer, and for a venetian blind company. They originally planned to settle in Colorado, where they knew the mountain climbing opportunities were abundant. But 1949 found them in the Black Hills of South Dakota, where they were convinced that western South Dakota's great weather would give them an opportunity to spend more days mountain climbing. They bought 20 acres of land four miles from Custer and settled in. One of Jan's earliest significant climbing feats in this area was her accomplishment of being the first woman to free-climb Devils Tower. In 1959, geologist and caver Dwight Deal had done some exploration in a small, but pretty cave called Jewel Cave. He needed some companions who might help him continue his exploration trips there and turned to his friends, Herb and Jan. He asked if they would be interested in grubbing around underground and, after thinking it over, they replied they would try it "once". That one trip turned into a passion of exploring Jewel Cave that lasted for over 20 years. What actually seduced the Conns into continuing their caving trips in Jewel Cave was the challenge of surveying: measuring and sketching the convoluted passageways of this twisting, turning cave captured and held their attention. From 1959 to 1979, Herb and Jan mapped 62.36 miles of the interior of Jewel Cave. The Conns discovered what is now the Scenic Cave Tour route in 1961. The National Park Service was intrigued by their reports of high, narrow passageways, huge rooms and unusual speleothems (cave decorations). The Conns suggested that the part of the cave they had been surveying might prove perfect for development of a new tour route. In addition to assisting with the construction of this trail, Herb also designed the lighting system and dramatic placement of lights still in use today. The cave winds that enticed the explorers further into the cave fascinated Herb, and in 1966 he produced an important scientific report explaining reasons for these barometric winds. The Conn's book, "The Jewel Cave Adventure" serves not only as a record of their years of cave exploration here, but as an exciting tale of adventure even for non-cavers. As for their public service in the development of a great national monument, they are inclined to shrug that off, too. "If people do what they really want to do, "says Jan, "then they will eventually contribute something to the world."

Current Cave Explorers

While Herb and Jan Conn were still actively exploring and mapping Jewel Cave in the late 1970s, a graduate student from South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Mike Wiles began accompanying them on caving trips. In 1979, Mike began a career with the National Park Service, first as a Volunteer-in-Parks, then as a seasonal park ranger. In 1980, he began an apprenticeship of sorts with the Conns. This sharpened his caving skills, heightened his awareness of cave ecology, and introduced him to the world of underground surveying and mapping. By mid-1981, the Conns had effectively retired from exploring Jewel Cave, leaving Mike to take the lead in ensuring continuing exploration. Over the years, Mike has organized exploration, survey and mapping of Jewel Cave by teams of interested and qualified cavers from throughout the U.S. Today, as Cave Management Specialist at Jewel Cave National Monument, Mike is responsible for compiling all the information gleaned from caving trips to effectively manage and preserve the cave.

Notes from a Jewel Cave Explorer

by Andy Armstrong

Exploring Jewel Cave is different from caving in other parts of the United States. Many factors make Jewel Cave unique: its great length, strong airflow, and difficulty of travel all contribute to a style of caving that I have not experienced elsewhere.

As of early 2006, Jewel Cave has been surveyed to a length of 135 miles, and is the second longest cave in the world. The longest is Mammoth Cave in Kentucky at 367 miles. One primary difference between the two caves is the number of entrances. The Mammoth Cave System has more than 25 entrances and has been explored and interconnected between these many points of access. Jewel Cave has only two entrances about a mile apart from one another. One of these is an artificial elevator entrance. This not only makes Jewel the longest cave in the world with only one natural entrance, but also means that a lot of distance must be traveled to reach the edges of the known cave. In the east, the "end" of the cave is seven miles from the elevator, about eight miles from the Historic Entrance. It would be very difficult to travel this route both directions in one day. So, most exploration out there takes place as four-day camp trips. Camping in the cave was begun in 1997 when a camp was established in the Big Duh, about five miles from the elevator. Since that time about 22 miles have been surveyed, and the known end of the cave is 3.5 hours from camp. On the most recent camp trip, we estimated that we traveled about 20 miles underground in four days. Such distances are unheard of except in a few other caves worldwide. Seven miles in is probably the farthest underground distance you can travel from a cave entrance in the United States. At the edge of the known cave there are unexplored leads and strong airflow, indicating still more cave beyond.

Another unique thing about Jewel is that there is strong airflow deep in the cave. I have explored other caves with strong barometric wind, like Wind Cave and Lechuguilla Cave. Both of these caves have extremely strong winds at the entrance, but inside, the airflow disperses through many passages and can hardly be felt. In Jewel Cave, there are definite airflow routes. When traveling through the Miseries or the Tenderizers, the airflow can be quite intense. There are places named Hurricane Corner, the Exhaust Pipe, Snow Blower, Long Winded Passage, and the Mind Blower; all because of the wind blowing through these passages. There are even places where the wind is so strong that it is audible. Thus, we get places called the Humdinger, the Horn, and the Whistle Stop. When exploring a cave, airflow is probably the best indication of more cave beyond. So we follow the wind to see where the cave will go. Barometric airflow can be used to calculate the cave's volume. Herb Conn did volume calculations based on airflow and came up with four to five billion cubic feet. The known cave only accounts for about 100 million cubic feet. This means there could be more than 95% of the cave still awaiting discovery.

Jewel can be a difficult cave to explore. It is not particularly dangerous among caves of the world; for example, there is no vertical caving involved and there is virtually no chance of flooding. However, the distances covered and the seemingly endless succession of obstacles can make for some hard, tiring trips. Heading east from the elevator, one of the first major obstacles is the Miseries. The Miseries is a series of crawls about 1,800 feet long. There are 1,100 feet of Miseries proper, followed by 700 feet of Mini-Miseries. The Mini-Miseries include 200 feet of belly-crawls, and tight spots like the Calorie Counter and the Funny Little Hole. After the Miseries, there are miles of travel over breakdown boulders, up and down ladders, and free climbs of varying difficulty. The ever-present "manganese" (manganese oxides and hydroxides) coat the trail surfaces making the footing slippery. There are also long stretches of walking, which can be covered at a brisk pace. On the way out of the cave, some cavers actually look forward to the Miseries, because they can lie down as they crawl and rest their feet. On the way out to camp there are designated rest stops about each hour along the way. The cavers take short breaks at each of these places. It is necessary to eat a snack at each stop in order to maintain energy levels for the long trip. Traveling in this way, the camp can be reached in about 8 hours.

So, exploring at Jewel is rather unique. Caving here can be strenuous and committing. Even experienced cavers that are new to Jewel need to go on a few "break-in" trips before heading far out beyond the Miseries. Why go to all the trouble? Because leads abound, and the recently discovered passages are not small. Some of the biggest rooms in the cave are at the far eastern end. Jewel Cave is still "going". In 2005, 4.3 miles of new passages were discovered and mapped. Jewel Cave remains one of the most promising underground frontiers in the United States.

An Explorer's Perspective

Exploration at Jewel Cave

by Andy Armstrong

Exploring Jewel Cave is different from caving in other parts of the United States. Many factors make Jewel Cave unique: its great length, strong airflow, and difficulty of travel all contribute to a style of caving that I have not experienced elsewhere.

As of early 2006, Jewel Cave has been surveyed to a length of 135 miles, and is the second longest cave in the world. The longest is Mammoth Cave in Kentucky at 367 miles. One primary difference between the two caves is the number of entrances. The Mammoth Cave System has more than 25 entrances and has been explored and interconnected between these many points of access. Jewel Cave has only two entrances about a mile apart from one another. One of these is an artificial elevator entrance. This not only makes Jewel the longest cave in the world with only one natural entrance, but also means that a lot of distance must be traveled to reach the edges of the known cave. In the east, the "end" of the cave is seven miles from the elevator, about eight miles from the Historic Entrance. It would be very difficult to travel this route both directions in one day. So, most exploration out there takes place on four-day camp trips. Camping in the cave was begun in 1997 when a camp was established in the Big Duh, about five miles from the elevator. Since that time about 22 miles have been surveyed, and the known end of the cave is 3.5 hours from camp. On the most recent camp trip, we estimated that we traveled about 20 miles underground in four days. Such distances are unheard of except in a few other caves worldwide. Seven miles in is probably the farthest underground distance you can travel from a cave entrance in the United States. At the edge of the known cave there are unexplored leads and strong airflow, indicating still more cave beyond.

Another unique thing about Jewel is that there is strong airflow deep in the cave. I have explored other caves with strong barometric wind, like Wind Cave and Lechuguilla Cave. Both of these caves have extremely strong winds at the entrance, but inside, the airflow disperses through many passages and can hardly be felt. In Jewel Cave, there are definite airflow routes. When traveling through the Miseries or the Tenderizers, the airflow can be quite intense. There are places named Hurricane Corner, the Exhaust Pipe, Snow Blower, Long Winded Passage, and the Mind Blower; all because of the wind blowing through these passages. There are even places where the wind is so strong that it is audible. Thus, we get places called the Humdinger, the Horn, and the Whistle Stop. When exploring a cave, airflow is probably the best indication of more cave beyond. So we follow the wind to see where the cave will go. Barometric airflow can be used to calculate the cave's volume. Herb Conn did volume calculations based on airflow and came up with four to five billion cubic feet. The known cave only accounts for about 120 million cubic feet. This means there could be more than 95% of the cave still awaiting discovery.

Jewel can be a difficult cave to explore. It is not particularly dangerous among caves of the world; for example, there is no vertical caving involved and there is virtually no chance of flooding. However, the distances covered and the seemingly endless succession of obstacles can make for some hard, tiring trips. Heading east from the elevator, one of the first major obstacles is the Miseries. The Miseries is a series of crawls about 1,800 feet long. There are 1,100 feet of Miseries proper, followed by 700 feet of Mini-Miseries. The Mini-Miseries include 200 feet of belly-crawls, and tight spots like the Calorie Counter and the Funny Little Hole. After the Miseries, there are miles of travel over breakdown boulders, up and down ladders, and free climbs of varying difficulty. The ever-present "manganese" (manganese oxides and hydroxides) that coats the trail surfaces makes the footing slippery. There are also long stretches of walking, which can be covered at a brisk pace. On the way out of the cave, some cavers actually look forward to the Miseries, because they can lie down as they crawl and rest their feet. On the way out to camp there are designated rest stops about each hour along the way. The cavers take short breaks at each of these places. It is necessary to eat a snack at each stop in order to maintain energy levels for the long trip. Traveling in this way, the camp can be reached in about 8 hours.

So, exploring at Jewel is rather unique. Caving here can be strenuous and committing. Even experienced cavers that are new to Jewel need to go on a few "break-in" trips before heading far out beyond the Miseries. Why go to all the trouble? Because leads abound, and the recently discovered passages are not small. Some of the biggest rooms in the cave are at the far eastern end. Jewel Cave is still "going." In 2005, 4.3 miles of new passages were discovered and mapped. Jewel Cave remains one of the most promising underground frontiers in the United States.