Carlsbad Caverns is
a complex of caves below the Guadalupe
Mountains in extreme southeast
New Mexico. The Guadalupes lie within the
Permian basin of New Mexico and west Texas,
so named because the region was an ocean
250 million years ago. The mountains in the
area along Highway 52/180 look like the hands
of giants resting on the ground because of
their wild erosion patterns. Most
of the rock is limestone, from an abundance
of coral reefs during the period. Water
percolating through these rocks
reached underground caverns and built up
thousands of stalactites and stalagmites
over the eons, producing the fantastic
underground formations of Carlsbad Caverns.
The caverns themselves are several hundred feet
below the visitor's center, which if I remember correctly
has some informative exhibits, along with the obligatory
gift shop and cafe.
I've used both the walk-down entrance past
the bats (and fragrant bat guano), and the
elevator. Either way is ok, though if
you're not surefooted, the elevator is the way
to go - the walkway is well-paved, but a little
steep, and slippery from the humidity in the cave.
You'll miss out on some of the formations on the
way down, though.
The main cavern is blocked off into several
sections, and is vaguely in the shape
of a cross, and looks for all the world like
Roger Dean's painting for the cover of
"Classic Yes". The most notable section
in my mind is the Hall of Giants, a set of
stalagmites tens of feet tall. There's another
that looks to me like the mouth of a Gray Whale.
But the place is filled with formations in all
shapes and sizes. The main cave is the only one
I've visited, as I'm not much into
spelunking, but you'll be floored when you
see some of the formations.
Carlsbad Caverns are, as mentioned above,
also a famous home and
refuge for Mexican Free-tailed bats.
They come out of the
main cave en masse at sunset, which is fun to
watch but not dangerous unless you are a small,
flying insect. Occasionally, the park also
puts on various nature programs, including
night-time astronomy programs (the skies
are some of the darkest you'll find anywhere).
There are a few campgrounds around the area,
and the one at White's City near the park entrance
is reasonable (a few bucks a night per tent). Otherwise,
you can drive to the city of
Carlsbad a dozen
or so miles up the road.
I've never driven to the park via Carlsbad itself,
since I always drove from Las Cruces, New Mexico via Highway 180. If you take 180, be sure to stop and
obligatory photograph of El Capitan, the second
highest mountain in Texas, and take a hike through
McKittrick Canyon in Guadalupe Mountain park on the
Texas side of the border. The latter is great in
October when the autumn colors peak.