Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Travel Blog

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Welcome to Carlsbad Caverns

I was sooo excited to take the 4 hour caving tour on Saturday where you get to crawl around the cave off the trails.  And then I was soooo bummed when I found out the tour was sold out - in fact, they sell out a month in advance!  I wish the website would have mentioned that!  I almost didn't make the 4 hour drive down there because I don't like regular cave tours.  As a geologist, I know a fair bit about caves and I don't like listening to the stories of, "if you look over there, you can see where captain Joe's propellor hit the wall", etc.  But this cave is different - you can take the self guided tour along a paved trail with handrails.

The visitor center was going through a reconstruction and the ticket office and gift shop and food place were all located in trailers in the parking lot.

Prickly Pear cactus
  I heard it was because the paved parking lot stopped the flow of water into the cave, so they were removing the pavement.  You need to get your ticket before you enter the cave (obviously).  I got to the cave with 10 mintues to spare.  Apparently they don't let you enter after 2 pm because it takes most people 3 hours to do the natural entrance and self guided tour.  The natural entrance is a 1/4 mile walk from the visitor center to the ampitheather where you can watch the bat flight.  Another thing I was excited to do and then didn't get to do.  The bats winter in Mexico, so they only fly out of the cave between March and October.  I think the bat flight programs start in May, though, so ask before planning on going to that.
Bat Cave ampitheater
 

The natural entrance is a fabulous hike down a steep trail (paved with handrails) and very dimmly lit.  If you happen to have a flashlight, you might want to bring it with.  They don't recommend it if you have bad knees.  Not many people were on this trail - I only met a few.  I actually entered the cave at the same time another guy did and we kept passing eachother when one stopped to take photos.  Small talk ensued - turns out he had a couple of friends that were geologists, so we talked about geology of places we've been, jobs, and then I gave him my personal tour of the geology of the cave (even though it was my first time there!).  We ended up doing most of the tour together and it was really fun.

Natural entrance to the cave - also where the bats fly out
  He was very nice and I enjoyed his company.  Dan (we finally introduced ourselves halfway through) had a son about my age and we shared stories of going to school and finding jobs.  Dan was on a solo trip from BC stopping at National Parks in the South.  We parted ways after the cave, though.  I hope we meet up again.

Anyway, back to the cave.  Carlsbad is a sulfate dissolution cave - most caves are carbonate dissolution - so that makes it unique and accounts for its great size and large rooms.  The sulfate comes from the hydrogen sulfide gas from oil and natural gas reservoirs in the area.  Most of the cave is dry and inactive (its in a desert, so not much water) and only about 5 % of the formations are still actively growing.

Me at the Natural Entrance
  The formations include stactites (stick tight to the cieling), stalagmites (might get to the cieling), columns (they joined), soda straws, bacon strips, flowstone, draperies and lily pads.  The features were very large and there were millions of stalactites on the cieling.  But again, most were dry and dull.

At one point, we found an old cable ladder that cave tours in 1924 took to descend about 200 feet to the lower cave.  Most cave tourees felt uncomfortable climbing on that swaying ladder.  I thought it looked like fun - at least if all the rungs had been there.  At every gate that went off the trail for other tours I got sad that I wasn't able to do any of those.  I don't find a paved trail very adventurous, though I do admire what they've done in this cave.

Cacti on rocky hill
  The trail is a little over 1 mile around the Big Room and is handicap accessible in some places.  And there were only a few goofy named features.  By far my favorite was the cave man - it looked incredibly like a Neanderthal man. 

I probaby would have cruised the tour a little faster, but Dan and I kept stopping to take pictures and rest.  It actually took us almost 3 hours to do both the natural entrance and the Big Room self guided tour.  You could buy an audio guide for $3 that I probably should have done.  Another lady we kept passing had one and let us listen to a couple of spots.  It was interesting, but would slow you down if you were short on time.  It explained a lot of the features that you wouldn't notice otherwise.

column surrounded by water
  By the way, your ticket is good for 3 days, so you can always come back and look again or get an audio guide. 

After the cave, which ended at 750 feet below ground, I wanted to take the 9 mile scenic loop drive through the canyon, but the road closed at 4:30pm.  Bummer.  It was 4:35, but it looked like they would lock the gate and then I would be locked in for the night - didn't want that!

I decided to drive to Alamogordo (elev 4335 ft) so I could do White Sands first thing in the morning.  Boy is that a long drive with nothing in between.  I heard that you drop through in to a basin and I thought it must be a pretty drive, so I was going to stop in Cloudcroft on top (elevation 8650 ft) and spend the night.

Whale's mouth
  About 30 minutes to Cloudcroft it began snowing.  Hard.  And it was dark and the roads were windy and I decided I didn't want to be stuck on top of the basin should they close the road for icy conditions.  So I kept going.  The drop down looked great - windy roads, lots of rocks to look at, and it even stopped snowing as soon as I dropped over the edge.  I stayed in Alamogordo at a little mom and pop motel and it rained all night.   I might drive back up and down in the morning, if the roads are good.

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Welcome to Carlsbad Caverns
Welcome to Carlsbad Caverns
Prickly Pear cactus
Prickly Pear cactus
Bat Cave ampitheater
Bat Cave ampitheater
Natural entrance to the cave - als…
Natural entrance to the cave - al…
Me at the Natural Entrance
Me at the Natural Entrance
Cacti on rocky hill
Cacti on rocky hill
column surrounded by water
column surrounded by water
Whales mouth
Whale's mouth
Green Lake Room
Green Lake Room
Giant Dome with Twin Domes behind
Giant Dome with Twin Domes behind
Ladder used in 1924 tours - drops …
Ladder used in 1924 tours - drops…
cave formations
cave formations
Old Mans mouth (I made that up)
Old Man's mouth (I made that up)
Carlsbad Sights & Attractions review
Gigantic caverns with easy access
Carlsbad is a sulfate dissolution cave - most caves are carbonate dissolution - so that makes it unique and accounts for its great size and large room… read entire review
Carlsbad
photo by: Africancrab