Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Spelunking Amidst Jewels (South Dakota, Day 4)

On Saturday, I was nearly wriggling with excitement as the three of us piled into the car. At last, I was to see and explore the famous Jewel Cave! The second-longest cave in the world, Jewel Cave is currently over 146 miles long, and is still being further explored. Inside are incredible rock and mineral formations, which give the cave its name.

On my suggestion, we had purchased tickets (you have to get them in advance if you want to get in, as tour groups are small and the cave is very popular) for the "Lantern Tour." This tour is a 1936-stylized tour in which guests get to spend nearly two hours inside the cave, using oil lanterns to light their way. I figured this would be a unique way in which to view the cave, and certainly an experience that we would be unable to find elsewhere. Boy was I right!

Our tour had only one thing that made it less than a marvelous experience: the tour guide. The Parks Service has done their usual bang-up job in preserving and maintaining the area - it really is a great place. The visitors center, as is usually the case at places like this, is well-done and informative. The other employees of the Parks Service that we ran across were the usual friendly and welcoming people that I have come to expect at sites such as these. Sadly, our guide seems to be the fly in the ointment.

To start off, the fellow came across as a cold fish - he never once came within binocular-viewing distance of a smile. His voice was inarticulate and resembled primeval grunting better suited to a Hollywood version of the Stone Age. He constantly tripped up on dates and basic facts concerning the cave. When it came to either history or science, this young man was clearly way out of his element. Honestly, I am disappointed in the Parks Service for letting an individual like this give tours - he is far better suited to work in an environment in which he will have little or no human contact.

As far as the cave went, it was awesome. And terrifying. We climbed down and up 716 cringingly-narrow steps over the course of our expedition, and it is only by the grace of God that a klutz such as me came out alive. The one time that I tripped, I was fortunate enough to fall forward after a top step and land on my (previously-injured) knees on solid rock. No complaints here; I'm just glad that I didn't have a far more spectacular and deadly fall! I held onto every possible railing so tightly that future scientists will have the privilege of studying my finger indentations!

The rock formations in the cave were such as I have never seen. Some resembled enormous kernels of popcorn, while others looked remarkably like huge snakes or mythical creatures. In the near-darkness, it was hard to see most of the "jewels" that give the cave its name, but I did occasionally glimpse some spectacular crystals. Overall, I rate the cave as highly worth seeing (and the price is hard to beat, too).

Following the cave, we took a long scenic drive through Custer State Park, which we had read would be teaming with rampant wildlife. Apparently, every moveable creature, including the insects, are currently on summer holiday from the park, most likely in an effort to escape the thousands of motorcyclists who have swarmed South Dakota for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Oh, well. At least I got to see a cool cave.

1 comment:

william said...


"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"