Well, we arrived in New Mexico just as the winter storm came through, plummeting temperatures, providing a little snow and wind, and a whole lot of cold. Our goal initially was to head to Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas but the route there from Fort Davis did not look too promising, given the low temps and windy conditions so we went to Plan B.
Our window of time allotted in this area is not very long and we were wondering if we would be able to see either Carlsbad Caverns or Guadalupe Mountains, as the road leading out to them had been closed. We were in luck on day 2 for the caverns, so we headed out for a tour.
I am pretty claustrophobic so I wasn’t sure what to expect when we arrived at the caverns. We opted for the self-guided tour, which did not include wading through mud and who knows what else (bat guano) and crawling through some tight spots with only your ranger and a trusty headlamp to guide you.
Carlsbad Caverns was established as a national park on May 14, 1930 and is located in the Guadalupe Mountains in southeastern New Mexico. The primary attraction at the caverns is the Big Room, which can be accessed by elevator or hiking in through the natural entrance, taking you 750 feet below the surface. The Big Room is a natural limestone chamber almost 4000 feet long, 625 feet wide, and 350 feet at its highest point. It is the 3rd largest chamber in the U.S. and the 7th in the world. The temperature in the caves was a balmy 56° with 90% humidity, much nicer than the 30° outside.
Jim White, a park ranger for the NPS, is given credit for the discovery and early exploration of Carlsbad Caverns (as early as his teens). He named many of the rooms and more prominent formations within the caverns; i.e. Bottomless Pit, Fairyland, Temple of the Sun, Rock of Ages.
The park contains 116 caves, with only two open to the public. Slaughter Canyon Cave does not have paving or lighting installed, as ours did, and visitors can only enter this cave accompanied by a park ranger.
Besides the groundwater, geological activity that freed brine mixed with other elements formed sulfuric acid that helped to form these caves and the stalactites, stalagmites, and other speleothems found throughout the caverns. Some of the most striking features found here would not have been possible without the corrosive action of this acid. Today there are few areas of these caverns that are still wet, due to the desert climate. Carlsbad Caverns is not considered dead or alive, just inactive.
Walking through the Big Room seemed otherworldly and pictures taken with our camera cannot begin to depict the vastness of this cavern. I have included a slideshow below for your viewing pleasure, as well as a link to some amazing photos taken of the caverns by a Q T Luong.