Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Hiking Jewel Cave- Above & Below

Recently, I was given the opportunity to help lead a snowshoe hike at Jewel Cave National Park. There aren't many places in the Black Hills that have a landscape like Jewel Cave. So naturally, I jumped on the chance.

Back in 2000 when the Jasper Fire ravaged through the southern hills it  burned over 84,000 acres. Twelve years later the scars are still apparent. Visitors can't help but marvel at the standing dead trees shouldered up next to a thriving forest.

I was hoping to snowshoe but on Saturday, there wasn't much for snow, so the snowshoes were tossed. A few visitors showed up for the adventure. Our company consisted of a Ranger, and another volunteer, myself and six visitors. We hiked across the hillside, stopping occasionally to enjoy the landscape or to marvel at a set of animal prints, eventually ending at the original opening of the cave.

Like all caves, Jewel Cave breathes, pushing and pulling air from outside. That afternoon it was exhaling a deep, earthy breath. It was a welcomed smell. The hike led us through forest, to open prairie and down into a ravine then we back tracked.

Once back at the Visitors Center we headed below ground. This time, about 30 visitors joined us. The cave is a constant 55' and offered a reprieve from the wind outside.

A cave is one of my favorite places to be- when the lights are on. Like most of the cave tours I've been on, the lead Ranger took a moment to completely shut off the lights. A blanket of darkness doesn't seem to describe the complete lack of light. It felt like a vacuum.

Myself and the other volunteer brought up the rear, always making sure we were the last people. Quite often someone would be lagging to take photos or enjoy a formation. I couldn't help but think they were brave souls. I would not want to have been left behind- or would I? Exploring a cave on my own could be fun...

Alas, I stayed on the tour, enjoyed the stories and learned a lot about cave formation. I also learned a few new jokes. The day was very satisfying and I was reminded of the beauty that lays not only above ground but below as well.

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