Monday, Mar 8, 2010
Jewel Cave has now been determined to be more than 150 miles long. On February 27th, three groups of volunteer cavers from South Dakota, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, and Utah explored and mapped 3,032.65 feet of passages, bringing the cave’s total surveyed length to 150.12 miles. Jewel Cave remains the second longest cave in the world, following Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave, which is more than 367 miles in length.
Due to its size and complexity, exploring Jewel Cave takes both physical and mental endurance. Experienced cavers travel long distances over slippery rocks, straddle wide crevices, climb over house-sized boulders, and worm their way through tight passages to reach areas that have not yet been explored.
During the weekend’s survey effort, one group travelled more than five hours into the southeastern portion of the cave before reaching the “leads” that they had come to explore. These cavers were the first people to ever enter these areas, where they found a mixture of crawls and large passages, some of them beautifully decorated with delicate speleothems (cave formations). After creating a detailed map of more than 1,600 feet of the cave, the group emerged on the surface after spending over 20 hours underground.
The other teams worked in the northern and central portions of the cave, in areas that had first been discovered by Herb and Jan Conn in the 1960s. One team travelled to an area near the historic entrance to the cave, spending over 12 hours underground and mapping over 1,000 feet. Another worked in an area close to the public Wild Caving Tour route, mapping a few hundred feet in about nine hours.
“Jewel Cave is truly a significant and unique resource within the National Park System,” said acting superintendent Mike Tranel. “The complexity of the cave system makes it world class, and it continues to inspire exploration and discovery.”
Caves remain one of the world’s last frontiers, and airflow studies indicate that most of Jewel Cave remains undiscovered. The monument enlists volunteer cavers to continue to learn more about its resources, and the data recorded by exploration teams provides the foundation for park planning and management.
For more information related to Jewel Cave National Monument, visit the News Section of their online releases at www.nps.gov/jeca or contact the visitor center at (605) 673-8330 and select Option 2.