Jewel Cave National Monument contains Jewel Cave, currently the third longest cave in the world. With more than 208 miles of mapped and surveyed passageways, this underground wilderness appeals to human curiosity. Its splendor is revealed through fragile formations and glimpses of brilliant color. Its maze of passages lure explorers, and its scientific wealth remains a mystery. This resource is truly a jewel in the National Park Service and it became a national monument in 1908.
Frank and Albert Michaud, two local prospectors, discovered the cave in 1900, when they felt cold air blowing out of a small hole in a canyon. It is unknown whether any previous inhabitants of the area were aware of the natural cave opening, which was not large enough for a person to enter.
After enlarging the cave entrance with dynamite, the Michaud brothers found a cavern lined with calcite crystals, which led them to name it "Jewel Cave".
The brothers tried to capitalize on the discovery, widening the opening, building walkways inside, and opening it to tourists. Although their venture was unsuccessful, news of the discovery eventually reached Washington. President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Jewel Cave a National Monument on February 7, 1908. The area around the natural entrance to the cave was further developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The National Park Service assumed management of the monument in 1933 and began offering tours in 1939.
As recently as 1959, less than 2 miles of passageway had been discovered. That year, however, Herb and Jan Conn, local rock climbers, began exploring, and within two years had mapped 15 miles. Much of the new discoveries lay outside the boundaries of the monument, under land managed by the United States Forest Service. The two agencies performed a land swap in 1965, establishing the present boundaries of the park, and enabling the development of a new part of the cave. The Park Service sunk a 300 feet elevator shaft to a previously remote cave area, and built concrete walks and metal stairs and platforms along a one-half-mile loop. The "Scenic Tour" was opened in 1972. Most modern-day visitors tour that part of the cave. In August 2000, an 83,000 acres forest fire burned 90% of the monument and the surrounding area. The visitor center and historic buildings were spared.
Cave Explorers with Logomites
Jewel Cave is open year round. The Park Service offers three tours: the scenic tour, a half-mile loop through a paved and lighted central portion of the cave accessible by elevator; the historic tour, a candlelight tour through the earliest-discovered part of the cave; and a wild caving tour, through an undeveloped part of the cave near the scenic loop. There are 3 surface trails varying in length and difficulty.
Rob Decker is a photographer and graphic artist who had the rare privilege of studying under Ansel Adams in Yosemite National Park when he was just 19 years old. Now, Rob is on a journey to explore and photograph all 62 of America's National Parks. He's creating WPA-style posters to help people celebrate their own national park adventures -- as well as encourage others to get out and explore!