Monday, August 4, 2008

Two Caves and Mount Rushmore at Night

Joe and Ned Show Off Their Wind Cave Junior Ranger Badges

Today was a busy day. We started the morning at Jewel Cave National Monument. With 143 miles of tunnels and chambers mapped it is the second longest cave in the world. The glimmer of calcite crystals that fill the cave make up the "jewels" of Jewel Cave. Of the four different ranger led tours available to explore the cave we took The Lantern Tour. We entered the cave through the historic entrance carrying only oil lanterns to light our way.

The tour covered the original explored 1/2 mile of the cave and lasted an hour and 45 minutes. The ranger wore an older version of the uniform to give the tour a 1930's feel. It was a neat experience to explore a cave by only lantern light. We even saw a bat. After the tour we explored the visitor center and the boys received their Junior Ranger badges.

We Enter Jewel Cave for the Lantern Tour

Stairs into the Cave

We stopped in Custer, SD for lunch and then went to Wind Cave National Park. Wind Cave is the world's fourth longest and one of the most complex caves. It is well known for its boxwork, an unusual cave formation composed of thin calcite fins resembling honeycombs. Of the six cave tours offered we went on the Natural Entrance Tour. It includes a visit to the natural entrance then enters the cave through a man-made entrance and then down through the middle level of the cave. There are 300 stairs on the tour but most go down. At one spot the ranger turned off the lights and lit a candle to give an idea of how early tourists saw the cave. The tour lasted 1 hour and 15 minutes and we didn't have to climb back up the stairs, we took an elevator back to the visitors center where the boys received their 21st Junior Ranger badges of the trip.

Driving out of the park we saw a large herd of bison along with a prairie dog town. The prairie dogs were barking at anyone who came near them. In Custer State Park we saw a herd of Pronghorn Antelope and some wild burros.

The Natural Entrance of Wind Cave

The Stairway Into Wind Cave

Wind Cave's Famous Boxwork

Joe and Ned, Spelunkers

A Prairie Dog Barks a Warning

Pronghorn Antelope Along the Road

I really wanted to see the lighting of Mount Rushmore in the evening. So we drove back to Mount Rushmore on Iron Mountain Road, another part of the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway. To lessen the impact on the natural habitat when it was constructed the road sometimes doubles on itself in pigtail loops to climb up the mountain. There are also three tunnels that frame Mount Rushmore as you travel north.

When we got to Mount Rushmore we visited the gift shop and then found a seat in the amphitheater. The Evening Program started with a ranger talk on the presidents, patriotism and our nation's history. After the talk the ranger called all servicemen and women to the stage for a flag ceremony. It was followed by a film called "Freedom: America's Lasting Legacy." As the film neared the end the lights started to come on lighting the memorial. It was an inspiring event to watch. On the way back to the campsite we would catch glimpses of the lit sculptures as drove along the highway.

Before we got back we made one last stop at the Norbeck Overlook to look out over the Black Hills and the glowing memorial to four of our nation's greatest presidents. It was pretty late when we finally got to camp. Tomorrow we were heading east and home.

Mount Rushmore Framed by a Tunnel on Iron Mountain Road

Ned and Joe Hamming it Up Presidential Style

Mount Rushmore National Memorial at Night

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