Carlsbad Travel Blog› entry 1 of 6 › view all entries
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.