The Black Hills region is cave country. Officially it's home to two of the world's top ten longest caves, but tell that to some locals and they'll just roll their eyes. That's because they're pretty sure the two caves are actually one, although connecting passageways haven't yet been mapped and documented. If they ever are, the big Black Hills cave will rank tops internationally! As it is, Jewel Cave ranks number three in the world (180.1 miles) and Wind Cave is number 6 (142.7 miles). Both caves are part of the national park system and offer exceptional tours. Some people think Jewel Cave should be renamed Conn Cave (good alliteration) because of Herb and Jan Conn. The couple left the east coast just after World War II in search of western adventure. They found the Black Hills to their liking, lived off the grid before anyone knew that term, and spent their days scaling the Needles' heights or spelunking deep into Jewel Cave. At that time some observers questioned why the cave was ever designated a national monument. It was deemed too small until Herb and Jan proved it anything but, exploring mile after mile, year after year. Both were tiny enough to squeeze through cracks that a house cat might consider tight.
The Hills are home to privately owned caves that are open to the public, too. Wonderland Cave in Vanocker Canyon, south of Sturgis, is famous for its crystal formations. Black Hills Cavern near Rapid City is another "wind cave," with rushing air. Rushmore Cave, just a few miles from the granite presidents, offers fine underground tours plus an above-ground zip-line, and a 7-D interactive ride where you can shoot zombies. Try finding that combo anywhere else in America.
Photos by Gary Biggs, Paul Higby