Buried under layers of limestone and sandstone hundreds of feet thick,
Jewel Cave is more ancient than South Dakota’s Black Hills, which adorn
the landscape above. The cave lay undiscovered until 1900, when two
brothers, miners and part-time cowboys, felt a strong wind coming from
a small hole in the ground at the base of a cliff. When they enlarged
the opening, they found passages filled with the glittering calcite
crystals that give the cave its name. Although its discoverers marveled
at the cave’s natural beauty, few believed the find to be significant.
Even after Pres. Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Jewel Cave a national
monument in 1908, the government was unwilling to fund development.
Americans then took up motoring, roads improved, and tourists flocked
to the once remote Black Hills. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation
Corps created facilities to accommodate the influx. Yet it was not
until an adventurous couple from the East received permission to
explore and map the cave that its true importance was realized. They
and fellow cavers who accompanied them or followed in their footsteps
discovered a massive multi-layered labyrinth. Jewel Cave now is the
second-longest cave in the world, and the exploration continues.
Judy L. Love is a freelance writer who contributes regularly to local
newspapers and magazines. She lives with her husband, David, in Custer.
Jewel Cave National Monument is her first book.
Judy L. Love 2008 ISBN 978-0-7385-6198-1 128 pages, softbound