Prospectors Frank and Albert Michaud are credited with the discovery of Jewel Cave while they were out riding horses through Hell Canyon looking for a place to find gold. They heard a noise that sounded liking rushing air. When they went to investigate they found a hole the size of a ranger hat with cool air escaping from the depths below.

They returned the next day to the small hole. They had brought a few explosives with them and blew a hole in the side of the mountain creating the only known natural entry into Jewel Cave. They initially thought the sparkly minerals lining the walls of the cave might be worth something so they staked the Jewel Tunnel Lode claim. Turns out the minerals were mostly calcium bicarbonate and not worth much. Next, they tried their hand at running a cave tour business. They made a one mile tour route in Jewel Cave and opened for business. That did not pan out either because it was a half day’s horse back ride from the nearest town, Custer, to the cave site.

Finally, Teddy Roosevelt used the Antiquities Act to declare the area a National Monument on February 7, 1908. The Forest Service Administered the site until 1933. Jewel Cave was the first cave to be declared a National Monument. The Cave was initially administered by the Forest Service; however, in 1933 the National Park Service took over the cave. They began giving tours in 1939.

We took the Scenic Tour which is a short half mile loop over 1 hour and 20 minutes. The brochure calls it a moderately strenuous hike due to the 700 stairs that you get to climb. Luckily, the tour begins and ends with a 240 foot elevator ride. The tour opened into a large room once we exited the elevator. From there we took the Rum Runner Trail, so called because the cave went from dry to wet. We left the wet area of the cave and entered another dry zone called Spooky Hollow because of all the black magnesium lining the cave walls. The magnesium makes the walls black and back in the day of just a lantern for light, it was spooky dark for the spelunkers. The next major attraction was the Chamber of Torture. This area got its name when a couple of people spent hours searching the large room for a source of water dripping that they could hear, but could never find. From there, our tour guide, Grace, lead us up the last bit of stairs back to the elevator.

This was the fourth cave that we have toured. Though all these caves are basically formed from the same processes, I find it amazing how beautifully different each cave presents itself with its unique features and offerings.