Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Our Bucket List

As our time here in Custer grows short, we're paying increasing attention to our "Bucket List" of things to see and do. On Tuesday, we visited Jewel Cave, said to be the second longest cave in the world, just behind Kentucky's Mammoth Cave. It is located thirteen miles west of Custer, and is several hundred feet below the visitor center and Hell Canyon. Discovered in 1900, Jewel Cave was designated a National Monument in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt. At that time, only about one mile of the cave had been explored. Fifty years later, exploration of the cave began in earnest, and today more than 100 miles of the cave have been explored and mapped.

Jewel Cave is known for its calcite crystals. Many of the walls are covered by calcite crystal formations known as "nailhead spars." Crusts of calcite crystals cover many of the cave walls in crusts two to six inches thick. The following are images taken inside the cave. Many of the formations are relatively small....two to six feet in size....but lovely. Others cover the entire wall of the cave. They include not only nailhead spars, but "cave bacon," "flow stone," "cave draperies," stalagtites and stalagmites.

The Scenic Tour, which we took, is a 1/2 mile, 1 1/4 hour loop. It is described as "moderately strenuous," and we certainly agree! The route followed by the tour isn't level walking. We ascended and descended ore than 700 stairs, and by the time we had finished, we felt sure we had walked off our lunch of fried chicken!

John was delighted that the day we chose to visit was also the day the Forest Service was doing a prescribed burn on 148 acres adjacent to the visitor center.   With the experience he has with prescribed burns, he could understand how the Forest Service was managing this burn.

The State of South Dakota, as well as the Forest Service, are working hard to do two things: they are clearing the forest undergrowth and dead trees to prevent devastating forest fires, like the Jasper Fire, which devastated this area ten years ago.  As you can see, not much regrowth has occurred since that fire.

Efforts are also to control the spread of the Pine Bark Beetle which is killing huge numbers of trees not only in South Dakota, but in the Rocky Mountains. The prescribed burn was part of this effort, as are aggressive logging of dead trees and removal of debris to areas where it can be disposed of safely. These piles of dead limbs will be burned when conditions are right, or run through a chipper.

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