CUSTER, S.D. (KELO) — Back in the 1950s, Jewel Cave was looked at as a small cave at only around two miles long. Today, it’s known to be more than 217 miles long, which means it ranks as the 5th longest cave in the world.
“I wonder if they’re just more attracted to the name, ‘Oh Jewel Cave; I want to see the jewels.’ And that’s because we have calcite crystal formations that resemble jewels, that’s why we have that name. So I almost wonder if it’s more that it is the draw and then an added bonus people find out, ‘Oh wow, this is also a very long cave,” Chief of Interpretation Aimee Murillo said.
During the busy tourist season, Jewel Cave brings in workers from all over the country to help guide tours in the summer.
“Others though are people from all over the country and that’s really fun too because this is a touristy spot. We do get people from all over the country who come here. So it’s fun to have that connection right away, ‘Oh you’re from there? I’m also from there,'” Murillo said.
Exploring caves is an adventure. Mike Wiles, who has been with Jewel Cave for 44 years, believes if people go into it with the right mindset, they will love it.
“They might actually start falling in love with caving. If it’s just what you’re used to on the street or if you’re trying to use your skills that you have in the street or going up and down stairs and you’re trying to treat the cave the same way, it’s not going to work well and you won’t have as much fun,” Chief of Resource Management Mike Wiles said.
To date, the Jewel Cave is known to go a little over 800 feet down into the ground. And tours sometimes take all the way down close to the 400 mark, throughout the year as well.
Jewel Cave is unique in that it offers four different types of tours that can bring 10 to 30 people at a time.
“It’s something that if you really catch a fancy for or if you find yourself looking into a dark hole and wondering where that hole goes, you might have the makings of a cave explorer,” Wiles said.
Being off the beaten path in the Black Hills, this cave makes an excellent stopping point for those exploring the region.
“And this can be just a great thing to check out, a great way to cool off and see something you don’t see every day. If you work here at Jewel Cave, you see it every day, but it’s really fun to take visitors on, maybe what is a new experience for them,” Murillo said.
“Well, Jewel Cave does not look or feel like any other cave in the world. With the spar, with the size of the passages, with the lights and fixtures themselves hidden from view, it itself is kind of an exploration,” Wiles said.
Jewel Cave looks forward to celebrating another 115 years as they continue to explore the unknown each day.
Jewel Cave remains open year-round to provide tours, only shutting down for a few days a year.