In the southern half of the Black Hills National Forest lies a massive limestone cave system called Jewel Cave that is 190 miles in length. It is the deepest cave in the area at 832 feet below the surface. To the east of this monument is Wind Cave National Park and there’s speculation that the caves there might connect with the network belonging to Jewel Cave, but because a full exploration hasn’t yet been possible, they don’t know for sure. We weren’t able to make it to Wind Cave during our August road trip, but I’m so glad we had a chance to check out Jewel Cave and participate in a tour.Jewel Cave 01

Thanks to advice we found online, we got to the monument as early as we could on our first full day in the area and bought our tickets for the 90 minute Scenic Tour immediately. There is another tour which is located at the actual first known natural entrance to the cave about a mile away from the Visitor Center. It looked pretty neat as the tour is led by lanterns, but I couldn’t take my DSLR on it. I’m thinking when we get a chance to visit Wind Cave NP, we’ll do the tour there that sounded similar.

We had a few hours to spare before our tour, so we first checked out the Visitor Center. It was absolutely spectacular in terms of souvenirs and information – and the photo below gives you an idea of how the cave system is laid out.

Jewel Cave 02After we’d spent plenty of time inside the center, we headed outside to walk the tiny Roof Trail around the building. It was the perfect distance to get us moving, but not so much that it tired us out because we had a lot of stairs to climb in the cave.
Jewel Cave 04As you can see, there were other (longer) trail options. But I was trying to limit the hiking the kids did on this trip since it’s not their favorite. (Well, I’m speaking here for the older two. Austin loves to hike.)
Jewel Cave 05

These three were so excited for this tour – the cave was their top priority for the trip. (However, it turned out that they actually enjoyed something later even more. Stay tuned!)Jewel Cave 06

As we were heading back in for the tour, I caught sight of this sign and it made me pause for a minute. I can’t believe it’s taken me 35 years to grasp how important the National Park Service is to me personally and how much of an impact it could make on the lives of my family members. We’ve loved having new experiences, and we obviously move a lot, hike a lot and see plenty of beautiful things. But prior to this summer, James and I had only been to a few national parks in our whole lives. And our kids had only been to two – Great Smoky Mountain NP in 2013 and then Rocky Mountain NP here plenty of times. We’ve been to a handful of national monuments/sites, but we hadn’t really recognized those for what they were at the time – treasure trove of both experiences AND knowledge. Finally seeing what each of these places has to offer has opened up a whole new world of travel options to us. Visiting each of these places has become a new goal, journey, and destination for us. We’d only been home from this trip for less than 24 hours before I was planning our next getaway to a pair of national parks. I am giddy just thinking about it! Here I was thinking I needed big fancy schmancy vacations and all I really need is a tent and our National Parks access pass! (I am absolutely shocked that those words just came from my finger tips. I seriously thought I hated camping.)

We’ve lived in Indiana, Connecticut, Georgia, Florida, Maryland, (back to Indiana), Hawaii and now Colorado. We unfortunately didn’t take advantage of what most of those states had to offer because we were different people back then. When we got to Hawaii, everything changed. We had changed. And now, here in Colorado, we will not waste any more time. And it is really quite shocking how much is available to us within a state or two. There are 15 (FIFTEEN!) national parks between Colorado and the seven states that touch it. That should keep us busy. And that doesn’t even account for all of the national monuments/sites/memorials – I got tired of trying to counting those.

Okay, so that was quite a detour from this post. But it’s where we are right now – and I’m pretty freaking excited about it.
Jewel Cave 07

So we went back into the Visitor Center and waited for our tour to start. There are elevators just to the right of this space that plunge you down into the cave. It could have been a super scary event except the elevators offered the smoothest ride I think we’ve ever experienced. So three cheers for that.

Jewel Cave 03

I am not even going to try and remember what all of these formations are within the cave, but I will share the pretty photos I snapped. Because it’s fun and I took them and where else can I share them where people might care? (Don’t tell me you don’t care. I don’t wanna hear it.)Jewel Cave 08 Jewel Cave 09 Jewel Cave 10 Jewel Cave 11

Ooohh. Ahh. But seriously, this looks like something out of an alien movie.Jewel Cave 12 Jewel Cave 13 Jewel Cave 14 Jewel Cave 15

Oh! I remember the name of this…Flowstone! (Okay, I thought I knew it, but I still had to Google.)Jewel Cave 16 Jewel Cave 17 Jewel Cave 18 Jewel Cave 19 Jewel Cave 20

No idea why this photo turned out green. Probably something to do with the lighting they have installed?Jewel Cave 21 Jewel Cave 22

Look, it’s a big ribbon of bacon!Jewel Cave 23 Jewel Cave 24

The biggest bummer I had was that I couldn’t get a family photo of all of us inside the cave. Yeah, I know. First world photographer problem. The park ranger had plenty to say and there were a LOT of us in the group so we constantly had to move along. And I didn’t want to be that jerk holding up the tour because I insisted on snapping photos.

My DSLR doesn’t have a flash on it, but I did think ahead, so I brought along my compact camera for a few shots of the kids. I forgot how much I like that thing!Jewel Cave 25

It was a wee bit chilly here in the deepest part of the tour. We were 300 feet below the surface. Eek!Jewel Cave 26 Jewel Cave 27 Jewel Cave 28

We really did have a good time, and we learned a TON about the cave and how it was formed. Homeschooling field trip win! Of course I don’t really remember much of it, because I was too busy trying to capture non-blurry photos in the dark space. But I mean, it’s fine. That’s what the internet is for, right? 😉

Next stop on this ride….Custer State Park!

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Custer State Park, SD
Devils Tower National Monument