Carlsbad Caverns was a must-see on our New Mexico leg of the trip. After visiting Kartchner Caverns in Arizona, we were excited to see the difference in the two caves (mainly due to preservation methods).
Right from the start, the experience is completely different. While Kartchner Caverns is only accessible via a guided tour, Carlsbad Caverns allow for self-guided tours. Visitors have the option of descending right down into the Big Room via a one-minute elevator ride, or taking the Natural Entrance path.
Cory and I chose the latter, wanting to spend more time in the cavern (and get in a bit of exercise!). The Natural Entrance to the caverns is a wide mouth, with a relatively steep path. During the summer months, the cave is home to a colony of bats (colony, camp, or cloud are all terms for a group of bats!). At dusk, the bats emerge out of the Natural Entrance to hunt – a pretty incredible sight, to see hundreds of bats in flight! Unfortunately, we weren’t able to catch this (since it was March), but the park hosts a daily ranger program, free of charge, for visitors to view the bat flight.
One of the coolest parts of caves, in my opinion, is what’s known as the “Twilight Zone”. At this level, outside light is still partially visible, giving a strange ambient lighting to the cave. The temperature fluctuates, so you’ll have hot and cold patches (“cave breath”). Animals can live in this area (bats, crickets, etc.), but it’s dangerous to some! If an animal that is not used to the cave darkness wanders in, this will usually be the area in which they become disoriented, and thus trapped in the cave.
Cave Watch was all over Carlsbad Caverns! It was hard to get a picture of the set up, but basically telephones were located throughout the trail for visitors to report signs of vandalism to the cave.
The formations in Carlsbad Cavern were pretty spectacular! On the path down to the Big Room, most of the formations are dry. I particularly liked the Whale’s Mouth, below.
While the guided tours take you to a few “off the beaten path” parts of the caverns, I think the Natural Entrance trail leading to the Big Room, and the vastness of the Big Room itself, is definitely a great way to see Carlsbad Caverns. There are so many amazing formations in the Big Room, both dry and “living” – you could hear the water dropping into the pools.
Gnomeo joined us for a picture – apparently gnomes are huge into caving.
What cracked me up about Carlsbad was the underground concession and restroom area! At this point, you are 754 feet underground – and can purchase souvenirs, sodas, and snacks! Of course, I had to use the bathroom facilities! When else do you get the chance to pee that deep underground??
Oh, and this happened.
I was snapping a few silly pictures of Cory when two rangers poked their heads around a rock. They immediately started laughing, then happily posed with Cory.
Carlsbad Caverns is fantastic! We loved Kartchner for it’s preservation techniques, and the beautiful display of the formations. But Carlsbad Caverns was so fun to explore on our own, and we really felt the vastness of the cave. We also have visited Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, so I am excited to eventually share those photos with you!
More photos below in the slideshow!!
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