|From Carlsbad, New Mexico, take U.S. 62-180 about 20 miles south to White City. Turn west along State Hwy. 7 and continue seven miles to cave. From El Paso, U.S. 62-180 leads 150 miles northeast to White's City.|
Carlsbad Cavern, probably the best known cave in the United States, is revered for the broad expanse of its massive chambers, its impressive depth, and its opportune vistas of vast dripstone forests.
Carlsbad Cavern, as well as over 80 known wild caves in this national park, is formed within a Permian-age fossil reef nearly 250 million years old. The once-living reef is remarkably well-preserved at Carlsbad as well at Guadalupe Mountains National Park immediately to the southwest. Where dripstone does not cover the cave walls, Carlsbad Cavern, itself, offers some excellent views of ancient plants and animals that thrived on the edge of a warm, restricted sea on the brink of the greatest extinction event seen in the fossil record.
The careful eye will notice that passage shapes in Carlsbad are somewhat different than those seen in most caves. This difference is best visualized by looking the small networks of passageways that propogate outward from larger chambers in the lower reaches of Carlsbad, such as in the Big Room. Passages intertwine in a dense, three-dimensional maze, known as boneyard because it resembles the sponge-like innards of mammal bone. These tangled pockets of cave have developed, in part, because of the homogeneous nature of the reef rock from which they formed. But more importantly, Carlsbad is unusual in that it was not chiefly dissolved by surface waters spiked by carbonic acid. Rather, Carlsbad and surrounding caves were carved by waters deep beneath the water table charged with sulfuric acid. These deep waters ate away at walls in all directions at once, sculpting rounded, irregular voids in the rock. Surface-derived waters have only had recent, secondary impacts on cave enlargement, and otherwise frocked the cave with its great calcite formations.
Visitors to Carlsbad Cavern have their choice of three main cave tours. The self-guided 2-1/2 mile Blue Tour begins at the natural entrance and descends nearly 830 feet into the earth along the lofty Main Corridor into the Big Room. The Big Room, at close to 360,000 square feet in area, is the largest cave room in the U.S., and perhaps the most scenic of the big cave rooms in the world. The Blue Tour circuits the Big Room, then returns to an elevator which whirrs back to the Visitor Center in a matter of seconds. The self-guided Red Tour begins and ends at the elevator and follows the same route as the Blue Tour throughout the Big Room. It allows for a leisurely walk over fairly level terrain covering 1-1/4 miles. Most of the Red Tour is wheelchair-accessible. The third tour is ranger-guided and accesses the Scenic Rooms, a suite of four finely decorated chambers--the Green Lake Room, the Kings's Palace, the Queen's Palace and the Papoose Room.
Rangers are along self-guided tour routes to answer questions and ensure the preservation of delicate cave features. Radio receivers providing taped narration at designated areas are available at the Visitor Center for a modest fee.
Be sure to catch the evening bat flight at the Carlsbad natural entrance if you visit between early spring and October. A ranger speaks about the natural history of the remarkable Mexican free-tailed bats as millions spiral upward from the entrance and begin their nightly hunt for insects. Expect to linger until shortly after dark. Many visitors leave before the show's gripping climax!
Nearby Slaughter Canyon Cave may be visited on special ranger-guided tours. The trip is fairly strenuous and provides a taste of wild caving, as the cave is only moderately developed with primitive trails and no artificial lights. But it is well worth the effort, as Slaughter Canyon Cave is decorated with magnificent stalagmites, towering columns, and an unusually delicate rimstone dam formation. An historic guano-mining operation may also be seen. Register at the Visitor Center a day in advance for the Slaughter Canyon trip, and be sure to bring water, sturdy shoes, and a flashlight.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park also protects an awe-inspiring stretch of the Chihuahuan Desert. In late spring and early summer, the desert wildflowers are especially stunning. But hiking is rewarding at any time, as is a drive along the nine-mile Walnut Canyon Scenic Loop. The park maintains no camping facilities. Camping and lodging are available in the nearby towns of White's City or Carlsbad.
|Exit 81 off U.S. Interstate 40 at Grants, NM, then south 25 miles on State Hwy. 53|
|Open every day of the year, 8:00 a.m. to one hour before sunset.|