The last post we told you about leaving the Texan desert and entering New Mexico. The scenery changed dramatically once we crossed the border. New Mexico has an abundance of hills, flora that wasn’t present in the Texan desert, and fauna such as roadrunners skittering across the empty terrain. There was still a large amount of cacti, and we saw a lot of cattle. The strange part for us, being from the eastern seaboard, was the cattle were all free range or what they call “open range.” The cattle roam without boundaries in the west. No fences keep these beasts contained. The human population doesn’t mingle with the bovine kind. There were also many crops being grown in the area.
We arrived at the campground, got a good dinner in our bellies, went to bed early to arise to the adventures of Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Carlsbad Caverns is one of the most famous caves in the Americas, and is known throughout the world for its glorious underground sights.
In the late 1800’s Carlsbad Caverns had become a National Monument. But by 1930 it was honored with the status of National Park. The park encompasses more than the cave system that winds beneath the surface. When one enters the park at the White Sands entrance, the drive takes you approximately 7 miles before reaching the entrance of the cave. The drive has pull outs that one can park at, in order to take advantage of the many hiking trails along the way.
The hiking trails led us into some of the finer above-ground areas of the park to enjoy the beautiful plant life which grows in the Chihuahuan Desert. Carlsbad lies not only within the boundaries of the Chihuahuan Desert, but it also lies on the edge of the Guadalupe Mountain Range.
We woke up early on July 13, 1985, ate a hearty breakfast, and then hopped on the motorcycle for our ride into the park. We stopped along the way to enjoy the hiking trails.
After the invigorating hike, we hopped on the motorcycle once again to gain entrance to the cave. The cave entrance doesn’t look like much for being one of the most famous cave systems in the world, but if you happen to look up onto the roof of the cave upon entering, you may be fortunate enough to spy a few sleeping bats. The bats sleep during the day within the cave, and a few of them perch on the roof near the entrance.
The cave is open to the public down to the 800 foot level. We were very surprised to find a small restaurant and bathroom accommodations at the 750 foot mark. Yes, toilets are provided way down there in the deep, dark earth. These bathrooms actually push the waste up to the surface to be handled at the top, and disposed of into the parks sewage system. Of course, we had to use the bathrooms, and we had to flush! It had a hollow, echoing reverberation when you flushed upward!
There is an elevator at the 750 foot level to utilize in your return to the top at the cave entrance. When we visited the park back in 1985 one had the choice of either taking the elevator back up to the top or walking back up out of the cave. Today, the only option for one visiting the cave is to take the elevator back up to the top.
Upon entering the cave we were in awe of the many formation types, and the beautiful sights beneath the surface that this beautiful park has to offer, such as these oddly shaped “Cave Coral.”
“Draperies” are a calcite-rich formation that is formed from the leakage of water from the roof of the cave that drips and forms these beautiful curtains within the cave.
Yes, there’s a ladder in the back of the above picture. They were placed throughout the cave in different locations to enable the rangers to repair lighting. Bill had wanted to climb that ladder to explore a little more of the cave than the attendants would have allowed, but Laurie *did* convince him that it would probably end their tour immediately!
Strolling along at a leisurely pace, we came across another smaller drapery deeper within the cave.
Flowstone formations are seen throughout the cave, and some of these peculiar formations can become rather large.
“Soda Straw” formations are hollow, thin formations that look just like their name, and yes, they are hollow. They are the beginning stages of what are called stalactites. Caves are known to have stalactites, which hang tight to the ceiling of the cave. Get it? StalacTITES hang TIGHT to the ceiling; whereas stalagMITES MIGHT reach the ceiling. Those are two important terms that one should always remember while visiting a cave. The cave verbiage we learned from all our spelunking, can become a language all of its own!
Within the Green Lake Room of the cave there lies a little green malachite-colored pool in the corner of the room. In the 1940’s the military tested the feasibility of Carlsbad Caverns as a nuclear fallout shelter by watching the little green pool within the Green Lake Room during a nuclear bomb test. Scientist watched for ripples to appear in the pond when the bomb test took place. Interestingly, none appeared!
Columns appear when stalactites merge with stalagmites. You might want to remember the terminology as we might have a pop quiz at the end of this post! Of course, we’re just kidding!
The Big Room or The Hall of the Giants is the largest chamber (covers over 8 acres) in Carlsbad Caverns. This room is the 3rd largest cave chamber in the Americas and the 7th largest room in the world. Some very interesting formations lie within The Big Room.
And more formations within the cave.
Here’s another view of some of the formations that lie within The Big Room.
Here’s another interesting formation that was coming up from the floor of the cave.
Upon exiting the cave, we took a picture of the surrounding area from the parking lot! It was definitely a good feeling to leave the bowels of the earth and to be back up on the surface!
We hope you enjoyed the tour of Carlsbad Caverns. It is one of the most interesting caves that we visited throughout our travels.
Join us next time as we tell you about the grand happening at the cave entrance every evening at dusk, and our visit to the Living Desert State Park.