Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Located: New Mexico - Established: May 14, 1930
The Park: This park is most famous for the over 119 known caverns that lie beneath the earth’s surface; however, the most significant critter at Carlsbad Caverns is the Mexican Free-tailed Bat. Situated two hundred feet below the Natural Entrance, the Bat Cave serves as the summer home for hundreds of thousands of these migratory flying mammals.
At nightfall, the bats put on a spectacular show. By the thousands, they form a spiraling whirlwind funnel as they exit the Cave. The “bat cloud” then heads southeast to feed on insects in the Pecos and Black River valleys returning home shortly before dawn.
Cave Tours: The “Main Event” at the Caverns is touring the incredible underground world that was formed thousands of years ago when sulfuric acid dissolved the limestone found throughout the caves.
Explore the Caverns two ways. The pathway beginning at the Natural Entrance follows a one-mile trail descending 750 feet into the Cavern through the Main Corridor. From there, you can take the 1½-hour self-guided tour through the Big Room – the largest cave chamber in America measuring 4000 feet in length by 225 feet high. For quick access to the Big Room, there is an elevator that descends 800 feet down from the Visitor Center.
Another way to explore the park is to purchase one of several Ranger Guided Tours, which leads you into areas inaccessible without a guide. During the peak season, it is highly recommended that you make reservations well in advance for Ranger Guided Tours.
Don’t miss: The King’s Palace Tour is well worth the modest price of admission. A Park Ranger will lead you down a paved trail to the deepest portion of the Cavern - 830 feet below the surface.
A lesser-known tour that’s well worth the modest fee is known as the Left Hand Tunnel Tour. This two-hour trek is limited to 15 participants and takes you into an undeveloped section of the Caverns. You will navigate this dirt path using a candle lit lantern. At one point, your guide will ask you to extinguish all candles and you will experience the eerie sensation of total darkness!
Getting there: Accessible by car, Carlsbad Caverns is located in southeastern New Mexico 20 miles from the city of Carlsbad off US-62, NM and 149 miles from El Paso, TX.
When to Visit: Open all year, Carlsbad Caverns does close for major holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Summers draw large crowds and hot temperatures. If visiting the Caverns during this time of year, it is recommended to make Tour reservations in advance. Inside the caverns, the temperature is a constant 56° year round.
Where to stay: There are no lodges or hotels inside the park; however, the Town of Carlsbad has a number of lodging options and camping facilities. Camping within the park is allowed in the backcountry and requires a permit, which is issued at the Park Visitor Center.
People of the Park: Cowboy Jim White is credited for discovering the Caverns when he saw what appeared to be a dark cloud of smoke emerging from the cavern entrance. Upon closer examination, White discovered the cloud was actually thousands of bats emerging from the cave entrance. Shortly thereafter, White filed a mining claim on 20-acres surrounding the cave opening and began mining guano before becoming the Caverns first promoter, guide and eventually the park’s first chief ranger.
Memorable moment: The cave tours were fabulous. Best caves we've experienced in all of our travels. However, the memorable moment occured as we anxiously awaited the Bat Flight one evening. Expecting thousands of these flying mammals to emerge from the Bat Cave, we had to laugh when only a handful flew the coup!
Trivia: Although the Mexican Free-tailed Bats typically take “top billing” regarding Cave Critters, another migratory bird that nests in the park is the Cave Swallow. The Cave Swallow, can be seen from early February to late October nesting just inside the entrance to Carlsbad Cavern. These entertaining birds dazzle visitors by chattering, swooping, and making spectacular dives into and around the mouth of the cave.
Banner: Daggar-like stelactites hanging menacingly inside the cave appear to be icicles.
Experience these Check List:
- Stop by the Visitor Center
- Take a Cave Tour...or two!
- Watch the Bat Flight Program (summers)
- Gaze at the stars
- Hike the Natural Entrance to the Big Room