Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns became a National Monument in 1923, a National Park in 1930, and a World Heritage Site in 1995. Jim White, a local cowboy, spent 45 years exploring the cave, serving as a guide, and ardently promoting it. From 1902 to 1958 bat guano mining was allowed. Thousands of tons of this natural, nitrogen-rich fertilizer were extracted for use in California citrus groves. We descended 750 feet on one of two elevators in order to explore the one mile Big Room self-guiding trail. The Big Room is a massive cavern covering 8.2 acres with many unusual formations. The Hall of Giants, for example, has massive speleotherms, the largest in the cave. They were formed through the gradual accumulation of calcite from dripping water. Torchlight and Rock of Ages are two other prominent formations. The Painted Grotto features more speleotherms made from the colorless mineral calcite, but yellow, orange, red, and brown tints from other minerals add some color. The Dolls Theater features small columns and soda straws, delicate stalactites. The Chinese Theater displays columns, stalactites, and stalagmites. Seeing these wonders was enhanced by the extensive lighting system that incorporates 1,000 bulbs and tubes using 19 miles of concealed wires. A complete rewiring is currently taking place at night. While we had a very short wait in the early afternoon for the one-minute descent, we joined a long line to return to the surface before the cave closed for the day. Two more elevators are being renovated. The additional air which entered the Caverns from the elevator shafts affected the cave. Revolving doors leading into the elevators have been added to minimize the damage.

Natural Entrance

Natural Entrance

The next morning we were able to take a ranger led tour of the Kings Palace. This area of the cave is 830 feet below the surface. In addition to the Kings Palace, we visited the Papoose Room, the Queens Chamber, and the Green Lake Room. This trail allows guests to be very close to formations and doesn’t include as many guide rails. On our return to the surface, I walked to the Natural Entrance. Ansel Adams photographed the Carlsbad Caverns in 1936 and 1941. His work from 1936 was rediscovered in 1978 and some of his photographs were on display in the Visitor’s Center. Carlsbad Caverns is an amazing adventure!

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