Birder's Eye View

Sunday, August 23, 2009

SD Saga: Beneath the surface

On the 9th day of our trip, we decided to go check out another cave. It was a toss up between Wind Cave and Jewel Cave, so we randomly decided to go with the latter.

From the travelogue:

8/6 - The 1 hour 20 minute tour went down through an elevator over 20 stories below the hill, where the temperature was 49 degrees underground. There were 720 steps on the tour (compared to 180 on the Crystal Caverns tour) but it didn't seem that strenuous. Lights in the cave illuminated fascinating geological features like Nail and Dogtooth Spar, Flowstone, "Soda Straws," stalactites and stalagmites, etc.

Apparently, spelunkers have uncovered about 359 miles of Jewel Cave (which is the 2nd largest cave system in the US), but they think that's only about 3% of its actual extensiveness. Can you believe it? There is even some speculation that it could connect with the nearby Wind Cave, which would mean it's even larger than their estimates.

It all just makes me wonder what else is out there like this that has yet to be discovered.

Jewel Cave had some of the most unique rock formations I have ever seen. Long, glossy fingers stretched down from the ceiling, great statuesque cascades stood frozen all around, and narrow passages spread off in all directions in some places, enticing you to explore them.

After the fantastic tour, we went to check out the natural entrance to the cave, where it had originally been discovered. Like many caves in the area, the story was that it was discovered by the wind rushing out through a tiny crevasse in the side of the mountain. Its discoverers blew the hole wider with dynamite, and were amazed to find the cave extended seemingly endlessly underground.

Indeed, when we found the natural entrance (which was barred off with an iron gate so only park rangers and tours could go through), there was a chilly wind roaring out of it. The wind comes from the difference in pressure inside the cave. When the pressure his higher in the cave, wind rushes out, and when the pressure is lower at times, it sucks in. Awesomeness!

The next day, we explored another type of underground passage -- a gold mine.

Before the town of Keystone was turned into a tacky, overpriced tourist destination, it was a mining town. The Holy Terror gold mine (pictured above, and appropriately named, judging by the looks of the place) was one of the most successful claims there, bringing in over a $1 million back in the day.

We took a tour of the Big Thunder Gold Mine across the street, which had been a complete failure in the 1880s. The miners who worked there spent 30 years boaring 60 feet into the hillside and in the end came out with only 11 ounces of gold (only a few hundred dollars total for 30 years of work).

Nonetheless, Big Thunder was a good introduction to gold mines, and days later we would use what we had learned in a much more off-the-beaten-path situation.

We spent the rest of the day touring around in Keystone. We went to an old antique shop (the longest continuously running store in the town), the schoolhouse where Carrie Ingalls (of "Little House in the Prairie") had been educated, and took a ride down a 2,000 ft long alpine slide.

Despite being a total tourist for a day (and not seeing any new birds), it was all great fun, and eye-opening as always. Travel does wonders for one's sense of perspective!

Day 6 will be posted tomorrow.

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  • Are you sure it's "Carrie" Ingalls?
    Sure it wasn't Laura?.......... ;)

    Haha, random thought here, the word verification is "Resses"

    By Blogger Chris W, At August 26, 2009 at 3:35 PM  

  • Yes, I'm sure it was Carrie, the younger sister of Laura. :) By the time the Ingalls family moved to that area and Carrie was going to school in Keystone, Laura was older and working as a teacher elsewhere. Little House on the Prairie was my absolute favorite series when I was little... I know this stuff. ;-)

    By Blogger Andrea, At August 27, 2009 at 8:19 AM  

  • Haha, I'll trust you on that then. ;) It's been too long since I've read that series. lol

    By Blogger Chris W, At August 27, 2009 at 8:51 AM  

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