Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Jewel Cave- Or Step-Arobics 300 ft. Underground!

As I sit here typing, I still have a lingering pain in my thighs and calves, my memento from our visit to Jewel Cave, the second longest cave in the world. The black hills has many caves, and neither Chris nor I had been to one in a very long time. So we decided that would be one of the sites we visited on our trip to South Dakota.

After talking to the family, we agreed to leave the babies with them, and took the girls on the tour by themselves. This was one of the best decisions we have made in a long time. The babies would have hated the cave. I can't imagine them in near black darkness going up and down dozens of stairs. I really can't imagine ME doing it while packing a 30 pound tot!
Jewel Cave is a national monument in South Dakota and is a pretty awesome place to visit… once! They have several different tours during the day. One is a wussy 20 minute tour where you get a lecture and a quick elevator ride to one of the caverns. The one we chose was rated 'moderately strenuous' ... that doesn't sound too scary does it? (Turns out moderately strenuous is at the top of my physical ability!) They had a couple of other tours that included the ability to get through spaces like this (see pic). Yeah... like my ass is going to fit through that!

The girls fit easily into this 5.5"x24" space...now imagine going through several feet of cave that size!

The tour we were on starts with an elevator ride down into the bowels of the earth to a depth of 300 feet. Once there you are given the spiel and an opportunity to turn back. I, being an intrepid spelunker in my own mind, thought, "oh this will be fun!" and we all agreed to continue with the tour. The tour is 723 metal steps, (the equivalent of 40 flights of stairs... wish I'd read that before today) incorporated into a half mile of trail deep underground. There are lighted areas along the trail, so it’s not totally dark, but it’s not exactly well lit either. My thought was that it was going to be a fairly leisurely tour; after all, it’s an hour and twenty-minute tour and only a half-mile long. Lots of time to take pictures, ask questions...no reason to be out of breath.
Holy crap... its dark and kind of steep!

Turns out, we were with the tour that was apparently trying to set some sort of land speed record for getting through the caves. Sean, the leprechaun-sized Park Ranger who was our guide was very nice and very knowledgeable. I don’t know if it was him or the people in the front of the group that were setting the pace, either way it was killing those of us in the back! I’m not in great shape, but even the super fit Amazon from Iowa who was behind me was breathing hard. By the end of the trip, I was out of breath and sweating rather profusely. Given that it’s a constant temp of 49 degrees in the tunnels, it was rather embarrassing to come out covered in a fine sheen of perspiration.
Sean telling us about something interesting... wish I'd been listening!

The tour itself wound around underground, ending at a depth of around 400 feet. There were lots of cool things to see in the large, natural caverns. The cave gets its name from the abundance of crystals located in the caverns; they were hard to see in the dim lighting of the caves, so some of the pictures I took were very surprising when I viewed them on the computer. The rock formations, and sheer size of some of the ‘rooms’ in the cave were hard to capture on film (or is it pixels now?). The caves themselves were large enough that I didn’t get a real feeling of claustrophobia… in a million years I never would have thought that I would have been that comfortable that far underground. Well, except for the panting, sweating and shaky legs…all of
which had nothing to do with the caves!

Some of the features underground plus my handsome hubby and my pretty if overexposed girls!

The girls handled it great, although, Olivia got a little nervous at the very end of the tour. She doesn’t like heights and there were some parts where the walkway was above a pretty good drop there towards the end. I didn’t notice so much as I was trying to breath at the time. Taylor liked it, but thought Mount Rushmore was a better place to visit!

We visited Jewel Cave on Monday and on Tuesday we were on the road to home. We had to get back so the girls could start school. A funny thing happened on the way home... we ended up in Nebraska! It was only for a couple of miles, but it was a bit shocking to pass that, 'Welcome to Nebraska' sign. Its not a usual route to go through Wyoming to Colorado via Nebraska:)


Lisa said...

Beautiful pics!
When I was in 6th grade, we went 'spelunking' on a class field trip. All was good until we got to part they called 'Peanut butter and Jelly'. Basically, the cave is the bread and you're the PB&J. One chick started freaking out and screaming at the top of her lungs. She ended up getting brought around the fast way. I still remember how scary it was, wiggling through that cave with only the light of our helmet, seeing bats in the corners. It was actually really fun.

KentuckyGal said...

Wow...you ROCK as a mom! :) There are apparently quite a few caves in our area, but the only one that I know of that has tours is Mammoth (of course). I've been to Mount Timpanogos Cave (Utah) and Carlsbad Caverns (AR, I think...) but nothing so far with the kids. But I think I'll start working out and taking vitamins. :)