Just a few miles from the Guadalupe Mountains National Park is Carlsbad Caverns, just a single state and a short highway stint up the 62 to New Mexico. Don’t trust the signs, at one point the Texas sign says 23 miles and just a 100 yards further, New Mexico says it’s 16 miles – I’m not sure who put the sign in the wrong place, but whatever the mileage, it is worth the trip.
About 20 years ago, I visited Carlsbad Caverns with my kids, we took the Natural entrance in to the caverns, about a 1.25 miles straight down hill. When we got to the bottom, just entering the Big Room, they asked us to please step to the elevators and find our way out. Apparently there had been a bomb threat and they were evacuating the Caverns. We were bummed, but didn’t have the time to stay, so we never actually got to visit Carlsbad.
This time, we were more fortunate. We walked the Natural Entrance in. Truly it is an 800 foot descent in 1.25 miles, at times, it feels like you are on the dance floor playing limbo the grade is so steep. We will be feeling it in our calves the day after. The entrance is beautiful, a huge powerful cave discovered in 1898 by Jim White at age 16. He spent many, many years exploring the cave and finally in the early 1920’s it was named a National Park.
When we got to the bottom of the descent, we made our way along the mile long path through The Big Room. A large cavern filled with stalactites, stalagmites, huge cones, soda straws and draperies. Most of the formations are dormant, not enough water still seeping in to the cave to continue their growth, but others are still forming.
The Cavern is incredible in it’s size and dimensions, originality, lighting and protection. The areas are well marked, lit appropriately and made to impress. This has got to be one of the most awe-inspiring sights I’ve seen in a very long time. It just proves that nature can build things so much grander than man, it just takes a whole lot longer.
Make the trip to southeast New Mexico, it’s not on the way to anywhere, but it is worth the effort to get there, and while you are there, join us as the newest Junior Rangers at Carlsbad Caverns, it’s fun and you learn new things too!