All About the Southern Black Hills Caves
June 24, 2019

Jewel Cave National Monument

Discover one of the last frontiers! You will only be able to explore a small part of the cave during your tour because Jewel Cave is huge. The mapped and surveyed passages of Jewel Cave account for 202 miles, making it the third-longest cave in the world. Researchers estimate that the surveyed area is only about 3 percent of the overall cave volume. How did this cave get so massive?

The cave system continues to form as gravity forces groundwater downward through small cracks in the limestone layers. The mildly acidic water slowly dissolves the rock. Dissolved limestone also is acidic. As the now acid-rich water disintegrates more of the stone, the cracks enlarge. The process began 60 million years ago at the time of the Black Hills uplift, and Jewel Cave continues its slow growth today. Surveying and mapping is ongoing as explorers find new passages. No one knows where Jewel Cave ends.

Visit Jewel Cave on a guided tour. On the 1.5-hour Scenic Tour, you will see clusters of jewel-like calcite spar crystals that give the cave its name. Other geologic features for which the cave is famed include gypsum flowers, needles, spiders, and rare hydromagnesite balloons. Have a more intimate experience with the cave by going on a 1.75-hour Historic Lantern Tour or a strenuous 3- to 4-hour Wild Caving Tour (reservations are required).

There is more to Jewel Cave National Monument than the cave. The aboveground monument encompasses 1,273 acres. Here the mixed-grass prairie ecosystem of plants and animals meets the fauna and flora of the Rocky Mountains. Explore three trails that access the overlapping ecosystems. Maps at the visitor center will help you find the trailheads; be sure to ask about current trail conditions and what you might discover on your hike.

A limited number of visitors can participate in each guided cave tour. You may need to wait. If so, consider stretching your legs on the A Walk on the Roof Trail. This 30-minute, 0.25-mile loop begins at the covered patio and returns to the visitor center. Imagine the cave below your feet as you walk through the ponderosa pine forest. Look for interpretive signs that explain how the cave and the topside surface interrelate.

Blog information from “The Best of the Black Hills” by Alan Leftridge

For more information visit the Jewel Cave National Monument website:

Wind Cave National Monument

Air moves into and out of caves, equalizing the atmospheric pressure between the inner and outer worlds. When the air pressure is higher outside, air flows into the caves. When the air pressure outside is lower, air flows out of the caves. The air movements is negligible for caves with large openings, but caves with small openings can produce noticeable winds.

The natural entrance of Wind Cave is small for a large cave. The cave’s volume, however, is huge. At 39 million cubic feet, it is 2 million cubic feet larger than the Empire State Building. The cave gets its name from the rushing air that equalizes pressure through a small opening. The highest wind speed measured at the original entrance is 25 miles per hour!

European settlers assigned the name, yet the Sioux people were well aware of the cave for hundreds of years. They consider the opening a sacred place, the source of their people’s origination.

Wind Cave National Park houses one of the longest caves in the world. Spelunkers continue to explore the cave, mapping areas no humans have been before. Wind Cave has few stalactites and stalagmites but many unique mineral formations. You too can experience this underground world with a guided tour. The 60-minute Garden of Eden Cave Tour is the shortest and easiest option. A park interpreter will point out several of the cave’s unusual formations. A longer and more strenuous tour is the Natural Entrance Cave Tour. This 90-minute experience takes you to the spot where the cave was discovered and will introduce you to the world’s largest display of boxwork, a rare honeycomb-like calcite formation.

Spend ample time in the visitor center while awaiting your tour. Exhibits cover cave exploration, cave formations, early cave history, local Civilian Conservation Corps projects, and information about the park.

Aboveground, the park encompasses 33,851 aces of mixed-grass mule deer, black-tailed prairies dogs, and over 450 bison.

After a long drive or a cave tour, stretch your legs on a hike and watch for some of the iconic fauna of Wind Cave National Park. Inquire at the visitor center and choose a hike from more than 30 miles of park trails. Consider Wind Cave Canyon Trail, an easy 1.8-mile walk along a closed road to the edge of the park to view beautiful limestone cliffs. Another easy hike is Rankin Ridge Interpretive Trail. The 1-mile walk offers great views from the park’s highest point. The 1.4-mile Cold Brook Canyon Trail requires moderate exertion. It drops into a canyon, then winds west toward the park boundary. Watch for raptors and other birds along the cliffs.

As you leave the park, look for the small colony of prairies dogs at the main entrance. They are active, easy to see, and fun to watch.

Blog information from “The Best of the Black Hills” by Alan Leftridge

For more information visit the Wind Cave National Park website:

Rushmore Cave

Rushmore Cave is the original attraction at Rush Mountain Adventure Park.  Adventure seekers have been exploring the cave for over 90 years, and continue to be amazed by the variety of formations and the awe-inspiring BIG ROOM.  Cavers continue to seek out new passages and are discovering new areas within the cave still today.  Rushmore Cave features a scenic walking tour, a flashlight tour, and an adventure tour.

Rushmore Cave is the closest cave to Mount Rushmore and is easily accessible from Keystone and Hermosa. The cave contains a large number of beautiful cave formations such as stalactites and stalagmites and is a real crowd-pleaser!

In the mid-1870s, the government sent Professor Walter Jenny into the Black Hills to study its geology. Legend has it that Jenny pulled up on a rosebush and found gold clinging to its roots. Supposedly, that episode led to early prospectors who searched for Jennys rosebush site, and in the process found Rushmore Cave.

Living the American Dream, Lester “Si” and Ruth Pullen, a couple of farm kids from Iowa, arrived in the Black Hills in 1950 looking for a place to build a future for themselves and their children. As luck would have it, they landed a job as cave managers in the Northern Black Hills. Their life long adventures in tourism became a reality when they put their small savings down on a “hole in the ground” called Rushmore Cave.

Starting in 1952 tours were given by kerosene lanterns 24 hours a day, as every dollar was precious! Cement was hand carried back into the far reaches of the cave in old inner tubes slung over strong arms, to build needed steps. Wires were laid and carefully camouflaged to add electric lighting in 1956.

Cave Features:
Post Office: Early visitors carved their initials into the walls of this special room.
Image Room: Discover faces and other recognizable shapes in the formations of this room.
Floral Room: Helictites on stalactites create patterns resembling budding leaves & floral designs.
The Big Room: See the most stalactites in any room in the Black Hills. This unique area is loaded with unique cave features like stalactites, flowstone, cave bacon and more.

Blog information from Rush Mountain Adventure Park website. Check it out for more information:



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