Just before we departed for our Black Hills vacation, we had a little party with some friends. One mom recommended Jewel Cave. You need reservations for a tour, so en route, I got our tickets via phone. I considered the four offered tours of Jewel Cave:
1. Scenic – too tame
2. Discovery – still too tame
3. Wild – minimum age 16 and participants must fit through passages 12″ x 8 /12″ – too wild
4. Historic lantern tour – enter and exit through the original cave entrance, carry a gas-lit lantern and have a little adventure – perfect!
(I’m sure my family was thinking at several points, “Why can’t we be like normal families and simply walk a paved path carrying flashlights?”)
This WAS a great adventure!
The tour begins at the ranger cabin, which is a short drive from the main Jewel Cave monument entrance.
The front room walls were painted at one time after the ranger’s wife requisitioned paint from the gov’t. Since times were tight and colors like black, brown, grey and brown were needed for wartime implements, she got….pink.
There were only 15 in our tour group, which was excellent. We gathered our gas-lit lanterns from our tour guide, who was clad in 1930s ranger wear. (Kids under 12 carry LED-lit lanterns.) We walked down a long flight of steps to the historical cave entrance.
Side note: While we traveled to the entrance, we heard many sirens and emergency vehicles passing by. Our guide, who had been tuned in to her scanner, told us another forest fire had flared up 6 miles away. I uttered a silent prayer for all those evacuating and fighting. Underground wouldn’t be the worst place to be for the next 2 hours.
Cool! No, really, it’s 49 degrees, which felt heavenly.
Heaven vs. Hell (er, Dungeon) One of the first things your group does is select your route. One is “Heaven” punctuated by lots of steps down, down, down, down, down… and of course back up, up, up, up… Not my first choice. Our group opted for the Dungeon (originally called “Hell” route because of an eerie encounter by that first park ranger and a lantern that wouldn’t stay lit).
Rock hound heaven Caroline is our little rock hound, and she LOVED the miles of thick crystals, box work, fossils and other formations that she could touch and explore and point out.
Trap door! One of the most challenging (“strenuous” is apparently the approved park language) parts is crawling down a very narrow passage, kinda lit by lanterns with uneven footing. We all made it!
Hands-on This was amazing! Unlike other tours, where you’re constantly reminded not to touch the rock formations, you HAVE TO at Jewel Cave. You’re crawling and ducking, bending and stooping, and the cave walls are your guide for the 3 points of contact recommended to safely get through.
True Jewel Cave beauty In a “room” at the deepest point we would see of Jewel Cave, our guide has us witness the true beauty of Jewel Cave. We extinguished all lights. It was GORGEOUS! Very rare, amazing experience.
A little wild Near the end, you have the option to crawl through a narrow passageway. Of course the kids and I did! Of course Greg was at the other side the snap pictures : )
We highly recommend the Jewel Cave Lantern Tour. And the kids are counting the summers until they are 16 and can do the Wild Caving Tour.