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The Cavern Caves At Carlsbad

Updated on May 22, 2012

Beautiful places to visit

Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad New Mexico is located somewhere in the middle of nowhere. With a population of 25,000 and the leading industry's being Mineral extraction, oil, gas and potash you would expect to find nothing but big trucks, oil rigs and roughnecks.

Carlsbad is not what you would expect it to be. It’s full of pleasant surprises around every corner. The town is a small friendly, down to earth, tight knit community of folks who are always ready to offer a handshake and a smile. Located in the Chihiahuan desert, the cities clean streets are lined with trees, numerous public parks and the beautiful Pecos River. Of all the surprises this town has to offer the best and most breathtaking has to be the cavern caves and national park located 30 miles south of the city.

The cavern park entrance is located at Whites City which is a Sixteen mile drive from the closest motel. The road leading from Whites city to the Visitor Center, cavern entrance is a well paved 7-mile scenic route on hwy 7. Make sure to give yourself plenty of driving time if you schedule yourself a guided tour because the road to the caves although well maintained is very narrow and winding.

Once you reach the visitor center there is plenty of ample parking and it's only a short walk to the entrance of the large visitor building. Inside the visitor center there are exhibits on bats, beautiful art work, books, brochures, souvenirs, photographs and an information help center for the cave tours. The center also furnishes visitors with restrooms, a gift shop as well as a restaurant, picnic facilities and kennels, since animals are not allowed inside the caves.

The two elevators directly to the Underground caves descend at an alarming speed, some 750 feet in a matter of minutes. All elevators are manned by attendants and constructed with plenty of glass in order to witness the cave walls on your trips up and or down.

Even though more than 1,000 years ago prehistoric Native Americans ventured into the Carlsbad Cavern seeking shelter, credit is given to Jim White for being the first “explorer” of the caves in 1898. Jim White decided to investigate the caverns when he believed he saw smoke, a volcano or a whirlwind in the distance. He would later find out that what he was actually seeing was millions of bats corkscrewing upwards and counterclockwise coming from the opening of the cave.

For more than a decade he explored the cavern with his homemade wire ladder and yet could not convince the locals that there was much to the Carlsbad Caverns. In 1915 a photographer by the name of Ray V. Davis took pictures of the caves while he accompanied White on one of his many exploration trips. The Photographs which Mr. Davis took were displayed in the town of Carlsbad. News about the cave began to travel fast and the rest is history. Many where interested in the caves simply for the high deposits of bat guano and at first the caves where mainly used to collect and sell the guano as a natural fertilizer.

Jim white began giving tours to visitors and also gave many of the rooms the names which are still used today, including the Big Room, Kings Palace, Queens Chamber, Papoose Room, and Green Lake Room. He also named many of the cave's more prominent formations, such as Witch's Finger, Bottomless Pit, and the Temple of the Sun.

In 1923 President Coolidge signed a proclamation establishing Carlsbad Cave a National Park. Until 1932, visitors to the cavern would have to walk down a switch back ramp-sidewalk that took them 750 feet below the surface. That same year the National Park decided to open a large visitor center, add two elevators which would take visitors to the caverns below, a cafeteria, waiting room, museum and first aid area. The original cafeteria down in the caves have since been closed because of the damage it was causing the cave walls with the smoke and grease.

Once the elevators reach the bottom you feel as if you have entered a completely different dimension in time. Since it was our first visit to the caves we optioned for the Kings Palace tour, which is a 1.5 hour, one mile ranger guided tour through four highly decorated scenic chambers. The Kings Palace tour descends to the deepest portion of the cavern which is accessible to the public, some 830 feet beneath the desert surface. The tour was well guided with plenty of information, history of the caves, interesting facts and plenty of time to take photographs. One of the best parts of the tour is when all the lights are extinguished and you get to spend 5-10 minutes in total darkness listening to the sounds of the cave. You get to experience what it must have felt like many years ago going down into the caves alone and without light.

The park boasts over 117 caves; only three caves are open to public for tours however. The limestone inside the Carlsbad Caverns are full of ocean fossil plants and animals from a time before the dinosaurs when New Mexico was a coastline. The largest chamber inside the Carlsbad Caverns is more than 10 football fields long and about 22 stories high. This may sound impressive to hear but it’s definitely more impressive to see! Carlsbad Cavern includes a large cave chamber, the Big Room, a natural limestone chamber which is almost 4,000 feet deep, 625 feet wide, and 255 feet high at the highest point. It is the third largest chamber in North America and the seventh largest in the world.

Even though Carlsbad Caverns are the most famous, fully developed with electric lights and paved trails there are a few warnings that I would like to pass on which were never mentioned to our group. Eating before entering the caves is a good idea. No food is served down below and the walking and hiking can take a lot out of you. Shoes are also important! The moister down in the caves tend to make some areas a bit slick, so closed toe shoes with rubber soles are a must for maximum safety and traction!

The rules of the caves are that absolutely no food or drink (except for water) are allowed in the caves because of animals smelling the food, climbing into the caves, getting trapped and dyeing. I want to highly stress that if you are diabetic, this is one rule that you must break. The same way that blood sugar has a way of rising at higher elevations; it drops at lower ones. After two hours of hiking and only consuming water your blood sugar will be on the floor. The last thing you need is a diabetic episode 800 feet underground which I was told by our guide is pretty common! Taking a small snickers bar in your pocket in case you need it and disposing of the wrapper properly is not going to harm anyone!

Another thing to consider is that the air might be cleaner 800 ft. down but it is also thicker. If you have asthma, breathing, lung problems or just a heavy smoker it's a good idea to be prepared for a bit of breathing problems down below. The last warning I would advise is to those with claustrophobia or anxiety problems because the caves are dark in some areas, and pretty tight in others.

The park is opened year round and anytime is a great time to visit since the caves have a consistent temperature of 56° F.

If you want to witness the bat show you must visit the caves between June 1st and October 1st. The Mexican Free-tailed Bats emerge in a dense group, usually starting around sunset and lasting about three hours. A ranger gives a talk on the bats, while visitors sitting in the amphitheater wait to watch the bats come out. The summer season park hours are 8am-5pm. The park is Wheelchair accessible and entry fees normally run about $6.00 and are good for three days. The park has six different guided tours. The most expensive Hall of the White Giants runs $20 while all the others run ten dollars or less. Make sure to check the official website for Free Fee days for the year!


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    • Maddambutterfly profile image

      Marie V Stephens 5 years ago from New Mexico

      John, thanks for stopping in and commenting. I have another trip planned for the caverns and I might take you up on that suggestion. I hate to think that I missed 75% of the beauty! Thanks for the info!

    • johndnathan profile image

      John D Nathan 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas. USA

      Great article, Maddambutterfly! I visited Carlsbad Caverns in 2005, and I have to say while the elevators are there I strongly suggest you use the long and winding walking path to make your way to the bottom. If you just shoot down in the elevator you're missing a good 75% of the caverns. Sure we took the elevators back up, because we were quite footsore after making our way to the bottom.

    • Maddambutterfly profile image

      Marie V Stephens 5 years ago from New Mexico

      Thanks Laura for the comment. I hope this hub gets people to plan trips to the caves. It was one of my favorite vacations!

    • Laura in Denver profile image

      Laura Deibel 5 years ago from Aurora

      It's been forever since I last visited the caves with my family. Great cave!

      Sadly, in the early days, some of the morons broke off some of the artifacts as "souviniers". Anyone tries that now can expect to get arrested!

      There are some other caves, like Cave of the Winds in Colorado, but they hardly hold a candle to Carlsbad Cavern.

    • Dale Hyde profile image

      Dale Hyde 5 years ago from Tropical Paradise on Planet X

      Keep up the excellent writing!

    • Maddambutterfly profile image

      Marie V Stephens 5 years ago from New Mexico

      Well thank you! That's what I was going for when I wrote the hub. Im so glad it came thru in my writing!

    • Dale Hyde profile image

      Dale Hyde 5 years ago from Tropical Paradise on Planet X

      Wonderful hub about a place I have visited twice, years ago. It is a unique experience that I will always remember. Your narrative, in the hub, is like a great tour guide! Well done! Thanks for bringing back the memories!