It really doesn’t look like much on the surface, but there is a section of the Chihuahuan Desert where, just below the surface, wonders abound. Known as Carlsbad Caverns, this section of the New Mexico desert has become world famous for its 117 caves that include some of the most spectacular underground scenery in the world as well as its 400,000 resident Mexican Free-tailed Bats.
A Short History of Carlsbad Caverns
Geology is an amazing thing, and science has proven that the caves of Carlsbad Caverns were not formed in the usual way (rainwater slowly dissolving the underlying limestone) but rather were the result of hydrogen sulfide rich water that seeped up through the limestone and ate away at the rock, forming spectacularly complex cave systems. Over thousands, even millions of years these cave systems kept shifting and adjusting until about 4 million years ago they finally took on the appearance that they have today.
.About Carlsbad Caverns National Park
For all of recorded history Carlsbad Caverns have been known to humans. In fact, cave paintings and carvings point to the fact that even our prehistoric ancestors knew about the caves and used them for a multitude of purposes. But the modern world was introduced to them by Jim White, a local resident who explored the caves as a child and gave many of the caves the names that they carry to this day. It wasn’t until 1930 that an act of congress created Carlsbad Caverns National Park and put its 117 caves under the administration of the National Park Service.
The largest of these caves (known as The Big Room) is nearly 4,000 feet long and contains spectacular cave formations that have become world famous through pictures and National Geographic documentaries. Every year hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to the caverns (only some of which are open to the public) to find themselves amazed by the spectacular underground scenery, much of which is lit up with plenty of recessed and specialized lighting so that guests can get a true feel for the incredible complexity of the caverns.
Things to Do in Carlsbad Caverns National Park
While on the surface you have the Guadalupe Mountains, Rattlesnake Springs and the Chihuahuan Desert (all of which are available for camping, hiking, biking etc.) it is the caves themselves that are the true attraction of Carlsbad Caverns national Park.
You can go on walking tours or guided tours of the caverns currently open to the public. With elevators servicing the caves and broad walkways in some of the larger chambers, the caves are accessible to nearly everyone, and wheel chair rentals are available for those who are unable to walk on their own.
Occasionally there are even exploratory groups that will penetrate deeper into the caves themselves, though these are strictly monitored and members of these groups usually are required to have extensive experience with cave exploration and are usually associated with various geological groups or organizations.
Regardless of whether you come just for the caves, or extend your stay to include the rich biological diversity of the surface ecosystems as well, you will find plenty of sites to take your breath away, and will never view the earth in quite the same way again.