April 16, 2012

Carlsbad (BadASS!) Caverns National Park

Monday we left the Guadalupe Mountains National Park and crossed the border into New Mexico! This is our fourth state on this trip, after Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. We drove 50 miles through the Chihuahua desert to our next destination, the Carlsbad Caverns.

A visit to the caverns costs $6 a person, so we saved another $12 with our America the Beautiful pass. The entrance fee allows for self guided tours through most of the caves, but you can also sign up for a ranger guided tour through some of the more "decorated" rooms. These tours range from $7-$20. We decided to try out the free self-guided tours first and then if we felt like we hadn't seen enough, we would sign up for a guided tour.

There are two self guided tours, the Natural Entrance and the Big Room. It was recommended that you start with the Natural Entrance trail, which leads into the caves, and then explore the caves themselves on the Big Room trail. The Natural Entrance trail is 1.25 miles long, starts above ground at the visitors center, traverses the desert and then enters the cavern through the traditional explorer's natural entrance. You come to a huge gaping whole in the ground, with a paved sidewalk leading deep into the earth.

The beginning of the Natural Entrance trail
The Natural Entrance
The trail then descends over 750 feet into the Earth. As you go down, you pass the Bat Cave, where Mexican Free-tailed bats come to roost every summer from Mexico. You also pass several interesting formations, such as the Whale's Mouth, but the coolest part of this trail is the going so far into the Earth aspect. Daylight disappears after the first 2 minutes, and then you are left in dark with only key lighting to guide you along.

Our last view of daylight
There is a "rest area" at the end of the Natural Entrance trail. We were so overwhelmed by the awesomeness of the cave on our hike down that we were starving by the end. We rode the elevator back up to the visitors center and split a sandwich from the cafeteria. After rejuvenating our stomachs, we rode the elevator back down and started the Big Room trail.

The Big Room trail is also 1.25 miles long, but is completely flat. It traverses the perimeter of the largest room in the Carlsbad Caverns. Here is where we saw the huge ceilings, awesome formations, and a sample of all the chamber wonders (stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, draperies, flowstones, columns, cave pearls, helictites, and Aragonite crystals).

A portion of the Big Room
The Devil's Spring
The Hall of Giants
More Big Room
The Rock of Ages
Awesome formations!
The Big Room is 8.2 acres, and is the largest known natural limestone chamber in the Western Hemisphere!

While walking around the cave, I was horribly inclined to touch something, BUT there are phones everywhere that someone can use to report you! The ranger also informed us that there is a hefty minimum fine of $225 for every offense, including chewing gum in the caves. After hearing that, I kept my hands to myself.
Report Someone
After doing the two self guided tours, we were completely drained. The visit was a sensory overload; the size of the cave was hard to comprehend. It took us just over 3 hours from the time we entered the cave to the time we left, and we'd only hiked 2.5 miles! Of course I slowed us down by taking a picture at every turn, but even my pictures don't give this cave any justice.

If you are in the area, definitely don't miss out on this natural wonder! We were in complete awe, and that is why we suggest that they rename the caverns from Carlsbad Caverns to Carlsbadass Caverns. :o)

See more pictures of the Caverns here.

Happy Caving,


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