DOINews: NPS: Volunteers Discover and Map New Areas of Jewel Cave

Last edited 09/05/2019

Group photo of volunteers inside Jewel Cave.
*Volunteers survey new areas of Jewell Cave over Valentine's Day weekend. Photo by NPS.

Volunteer cavers discovered and explored new passages within Jewel Cave over the Valentine's Day weekend.

Although located in rural, western South Dakota, Jewel Cave National Monument is well-known globally for being considered the third longest cave in the world. Yet its mileage extended beyond another milestone after the cavers completed their exploration.

The volunteer cavers entered Jewel Cave on Friday for a four-day exploration trip to discover new passages. By Sunday evening, they had surveyed 6,557.65 feet, enough length to surpass the 175-mile mark. On average, about five miles of new cave are mapped and surveyed each year.

The cavers focused their efforts near a new camp site that was established in the western branch of Jewel Cave this past fall. Over the past few months, cavers have been finding many large passages heading off the current “edge” of the map into unknown territory. The objective of this recent effort was to continue mapping in this new area beyond a constriction point called The Southwest Splinter.

The cavers spent four hours on the first day hauling 15-pound camp packs into West Camp. Splitting into two groups, they spent the remainder of the day mapping nearby passages. The following day, the cavers explored a section of cave two to three hours south from West Camp, in areas named Crosscut Boulevard and Crushing Deep. Due to the holiday weekend, the group named one of the newly discovered passages "The Heartland Express."

On day three, one team continued to explore the area south of West Camp and found the passages too tight for human entry or the passages ended abruptly. Yet, this same group discovered a new “low point” for Jewel Cave, measuring 677 feet. The second team found an interesting wall of crystalline stalagmite "fins,” which was aptly named "The Great Wall."

*Volunteering for this most recent effort, as shown in the photo above, were (front row, left to right) Carl Bern and Dan Austin, and (back row, left to right) Blasé Lasala, Ian McMillan, Rene Ohms and Chris Pelczarski.

“This exploration trip reflects the significance of Jewel Cave,” said John Black, the park's acting superintendent. “Not only does the mapping and surveying lengthen the cave's overall mileage, but the new discoveries extend its relevance as one of the great frontiers in the natural world.” However, there are still over 100 passages (leads) left to be mapped in this new area. Jewel Cave has yet to be fully explored; for many years into the future, it will always be known as the park unit that truly does not know its full extent.

By: Bradley Block, chief of Interpretation, Jewel Cave National Monument, NPS

Feb. 25, 2015

Related Links:

NPS-Jewel Cave National Monument
NPS-The Morning Report

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