It was mid morning when the tour bus pulled into the Carlsbad Caverns visitor centre carpark. The sun beamed down, and the opportunity to spend a few hours underground out of the heat sounded so appealing, the anticipation was almost unbearable. But first the usual business of the attractions rules, guidelines and safety procedures took precedent. This is Carlsbad Caverns.
The rundown by the guide, a very well informed guy in his mid twenties only lasted as long as my fascination of the uniform he wore, coupled with the ponytail protruding from the back of his wide brimmed rangers hat, that reminded me of something out of the “Yogi Bear” cartoons. Before I know what had happened the group were marched through a side door and out onto a paved trail that looked like it headed out into nowhere. The guide mentioned something about ground stability but all I could think about was getting out of the sun. Thats when i saw it..
All of a sudden my concerns of the heat and sun disappeared and a sinking feeling in the bottom of my stomach took over. Its the kind of feeling you get when standing at the top of the “Sky Tower” in Auckland, when you step onto the 2 inch thick glass and see straight through the floor. Your toes curl a little and you can’t dare let go of the hand rail. The feeling lasted all of 3 seconds before the excitement of exploration took over. Unfortunately this feeling wasn’t shared by all and a couple of my group hightailed it back to the safety of the visitors centre.
The path wrapped back onto itself for what seemed like half an hour as we climbed down into centre earth. What appeared to be just a small opening turned out to be big enough to be able to fly a jetliner through it. What opened up in front of me made my mouth fall open. Wow. !!!
My blogs wouldn’t complete without a little history about where I’ve been and what I’ve experienced. A few years ago, after the inland sea which covered most of New Mexico receded, and a couple of tectonic plate shifts causing the limestone mountains of Carlsbad to be lifted, the seeping water through the limestone caused little openings to open up on the ground, which got bigger and bigger until an explorer squeezed him/herself through an opening into what I’ve experienced in this article. (I know its a bit basic, but you all get the drift).
Actually a boy named Jim White, explored the cavern on his home made wire ladder, naming the various caverns below. You can read about it in the book I’m Not Stiller by author Max Frisch.
The cave path leads into whats known as (The Big Room), a chamber almost 4,000 feet (1,220 m) long, 625 feet (191 m) wide, and 255 feet (78 m) high at the highest point. It is the fifth largest chamber in North America and the twenty-eighth largest in the world. I’ve truely seen nothing like. Waitomo Caves on the North Island of New Zealand, have some massive caverns but I’ve never seen anything like this there.
Stalactites (roof downwards) and stalagmites (ground upwards) columns protrude everywhere and amazing displays of razor sharp limestone formations are everywhere.
The caves names and brief descriptions are below:
Located in the ceiling above the main entrance hall, this small room was first accessed by tying a rope to a bunch of balloons and floating them up into the passage.
A large, unadorned rocky passage connected to the main entrance corridor. The majority of the cave’s bat population lives in this portion of the cave, which was mined for bat guano (bat poo) in the early 20th century.
Bell Cord Room
Named for a long, narrow stalactite coming through a hole in the ceiling, resembling the rope coming through the roof of a belfry. This room is located at the end of the Left Hand Tunnel.
Discovered in 1982, it is located in the ceiling above Lake of the Clouds. Its name refers to a Norse myth about a world in the sky that was accessed from Earth by a rainbow (the “Bifrost Bridge”). The room was given this name because of its location above the Lake of the Clouds and its colorful oxide-stained formations.
Big Room or The Hall of the Giants
The largest chamber in Carlsbad Caverns, with a floor space of 357,469 square feet (33,210 m2).
A maze of small passages totalling nearly a mile (1500 m) in combined length, discovered in 1993 above a mud-filled pit in the New Mexico Room known as Chocolate Drop.
Green Lake Room
The uppermost of the “Scenic Rooms”, it is named for a deep, malachite-colored pool in the corner of the room. In the 1940s, when the military was testing the feasibility of Carlsbad Cavern as an emergency fallout shelter, the Green Lake was used to look for ripples caused by a nuclear bomb test many miles away. None appeared.
Discovered by a park ranger in 1966, this is the second largest room in Carlsbad Caverns. It is known for its dense collection of “soda straw” stalactites.
Hall of the White Giant
A large chamber containing a large, white stalagmite. Rangers regularly lead special wild-cave tours to this room.
A room roughly 30 feet in length located above the Spirit World. Named for its discovery on October 31, 2013.
The first of four chambers in a wing known as the “scenic rooms”, it is named for a large castle-like formation in the center of the room.
Lake of the Clouds
The lowest known point in the cave. It is located in a side passage off the Left Hand Tunnel. It is named for its large lake containing globular, cloud-like rock formations that formed under water when the lake level was much higher.
Left Hand Tunnel
A long, straight passage marked by deep fissures in the floor. These fissures are not known to lead anywhere. The Left Hand Tunnel leads to the Lake of the Clouds and the Bell Cord Room.
A moderate-sized room located past the Talcum Passage in Lower Cave.
A large, sloping room located off the Queen’s Chamber, named for an unexplained noise heard only here. A small vertical passage at the far end connects it to Lower Cave.
New Mexico Room
Located adjacent to the Green Lake Room and accessed by means of a somewhat narrow corridor.
A section of fissures east of the White Giant formation and paralleling the Bat Cave. New discoveries are still being made in this section.
Located between the King’s Palace and Queen’s Chamber.
Widely regarded as the most beautiful and scenic area of the cave. Jim White’s lantern went out in this chamber while he was exploring, and he was in the dark for over half an hour.
Located in the ceiling of the Big Room at its highest point (an area known as the Top of the Cross), this area is filled with white stalagmites that resembled angels to the room’s discoverers.
A room located in Lower Cave where the floor is coated with gypsum dust.
One of the larger rooms in Lower Cave. A large number of cave pearls are found in this area.
Located in the Big Room at the head of the Left Hand Tunnel. It contains a cafeteria that was built in the 1950s, and is where the elevators from the visitor center exit into the cave.
The atmosphere in the caves is cool and damp, and although it was suggested we bring a jacket or something warm, the length of the trail, and the sometimes steep inclines/declines mean a little exertion is required keeping you warm.
Cameras with flashes are allowed spots long as the flash is switched off. This keeps artificial light to a minimum meaning the caves and their wildlife will survive for generations to come.
Its also wise to check the Carlsbad Caverns webpage to check for opening hours, tour times, or just to see if routine maintenance on the elevators have closed them or not.
Right up until 1932, the parks visitors to the cavern had to walk down a switchback ramp that took them 750 feet (230 m) below the surface. Imagine having to walk back up !! Thankfully in 1932 the national park opened up a large visitor center building that contained two elevators that prevents visitors having to walk back up the winding paths leading to the lower rooms.
Another attraction thats a must see while at Carlsbad Caverns is the “Bat Flight Program”, between May – October. The caves are home to 17 species of bat. Every evening from Memorial Day weekend to mid October (with possible exceptions for bad weather), a ranger gives a talk on the bats while you sit in the amphitheater watching the bats emerge and spiral up towards the setting sun. Its an amazing thing to see. This demonstration is free.
The town of Carlsbad, which lends its name to the cavern and national park, is named after the Czech town formerly known by the German name Karlsbad (English for Carlsbad)
After exploring the Caverns, we arrived at our stop for the night, the Carlsbad RV Park, in New Mexico. The weather warm (hot for my standards) so i opted for sleeping out under the starts. I placed my tarp down, flooded by the self inflating mattress and sleeping bag. Everyone else opted for tents, but last thing I wanted to do was sleep in a hothouse.
The RV park was quaint, the staff friendly and the swimming pool welcoming after the long day. The amenities were clean as was the games/tv room and laundry. This was however an RV park, so no-one expected 5 star facilities.
The group decided on eggs for dinner.
One thing I didn’t pay to much attention to were the thousands of small holes all over the ground. I did see several prairie dogs or gopher type animals in the distant and put the holes down to their burrowing. No one ever mentioned spiders, and in particular tarantulas
So when I woke the next morning to what was a great night sleep, feeling relaxed, never did I think that I’d been massages throughout the night by the hair legs of thousands of slides that according to the RV park staff, come out of the holes in search of food throughout the night.
Here’s one of the many spiders I found under my sleeping bag. I placed my sunglasses next to the dead body for perspective. Lovely !!!!
So this was my Carlsbad experience. I saw a massive cave network, Bats, and had spiders crawl all over me. Its an experience I’ll never forget. Thankfully I have memory of the spiders except for what was under my bedding.