March 20, 2023
I’ll start with two notes.
These pictures do not come close to showing you the majesty of Carlsbad Caverns.
When you go, and you NEED to go, make sure to make a reservation on the recreation.gov website. Tim and I were too late to take the ranger led King’s Palace Tour.
We were able to get tickets for the self guided tour which gave us about a 2 1/2 mile adventure into the caverns. We will definitely come back some day to take the King’s Palace Tour as well. The Kings Palace Tour goes to the deepest levels of the cavern and does require you to exit through an eight story climb.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is in the Chihuahuan Desert of the Guadalupe Mountains near Carlsbad, New Mexico.
We decided on the natural entrance route, a 1 1/4 steep and moderately strenuous hike to the Big Room route. The view above is from the start of the trail and below are several pics as we descended. The natural entrance goes down 750 feet and is said to be the traditional explorers’ route.
The ranger let about 20 of us go down at a time, to help keep us spaced.
I’d recommend hiking boots or very sturdy tennis shoes for the hike. It was not wet when we were there, but the trail can be slippery. There are handrails throughout the path and we were glad to have them. I think they are partially there to help steady guests, but also to keep people from “exploring” areas that might be dangerous.
The natural entrance leads to the Big Room route. This is an additional 1 1/4 mile self guided tour. The Big Room is 8.2 acres that is beautifully lit and pretty level. If you can’t manage the much more strenuous natural entrance, you can take an elevator to the Big Room. We saw several people with canes and other assistance here.
The cavern is usually about 56 degrees, so even if it is scorching hot outside, bring a sweatshirt or jacket. We were glad to have them.
When you pick up your tickets, grab a map and guide that gives you incredible information about how this wonder came to be. Here are a few highlights. Carlsbad Caverns began developing about 265 million years ago as a mile long reef through what would become New Mexico and west Texas. The sponges and algae compressed into limestone. Millions of years, tectonic shifts, cracks, and rainwater created holes that filled with salts. Then 15-20 million years ago faults, air, hydrogen sulfide gas, sulfur and gypsum created the huge chambers of today.
The “decorations” of stalactites, stalagmites and other formations were created over the past 500,000 years.
The brochure says that these draperies hang where water ran down a slanted ceiling and deposited layers of calcite.
Some of these incredible “decorations” started with a single grain of sand that became cave pearls, lily pads, popcorn and helictites.
Another activity we missed this time was the flight of the bats. Each evening from spring through October, thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats fly from the cave to eat insects. We will defiantly make sure our next visit is timed right to experience that!