Map of Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico
Detailed guide of Carlsbad Caverns National Park In southeastern New Mexico, near Carlsbad.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park In southeastern New Mexico, near Carlsbad.
The underground passageways of Carlsbad Cavern contain an incomparable realm of huge subterranean chambers, trickling icicle forests of stalactites and stalagmites, and beautiful cave formations. The main attractions aren't just the enormous caverns—which include the nation's deepest limestone cave (1,597 feet); this is also the haunt for thousands of Mexican free-tail bats, who stream out in black clouds from a crevasse at dusk. More than 70 smaller caves are also threaded beneath the desert and rocky cliff faces; there's even a theater and cafeteria inside the chambers. The park was proclaimed Carlsbad Cave National Monument on October 25, 1923, established as Carlsbad Caverns National Park on May 14, 1930, and became a World Heritage Site on December 6, 1995.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
Attending bat-flight programs, hiking, picnicking, touring caves. Facilities: Visitor center, guided tours, hiking trails. Book-and-gift shop. Programs & Events: Daily ranger-guided tours. Evening bat programs (May-Oct). Bat Flight Breakfast Program (2nd Thurs., Aug.), Founders Day (Aug. 25). Tips & Hints: Go Mar.-late Oct. to see bats. It's damp and very chilly inside the caves; wear rubber-soled shoes and bring jacket or sweater. Be prepared for 75-story descent on Natural Entrance Route. Reservations recommended for cave tours; call the visitor center, which will direct inquiries to reservations service. Busiest June and July, least crowded in Nov. and Jan.
FOOD & LODGING
Camping: None at site. Backcountry camping available (permit required, see below). Hotels: None in park. In White's City: Best Western Cavern Inn-Guadalupe Inn (17 Carlsbad Caverns Hwy., tel. 505/ 785-2291; 105 rooms; $65-$100). In Carlsbad: Holiday Inn (601 S. Canal St., tel. 505/885-8500; 100 rooms; $80). X Restaurants: In the park: Restaurant in visitor center (tel. 505/785-2281), lunchroom in cave. In Carlsbad: Furr's Family Dining (901 S. Canal St., tel. 505/885-0430; $6), Red Chimney (817 N. Canal St., tel. 505/885-8744; $7-$9; closed weekends).
Carlsbad Caverns National Park guide. Detailed guide of Carlsbad Caverns National Park In southeastern New Mexico, near Carlsbad.
Far right, top: Carlsbad Caverns National Park conducts a number of tours through the dark, vast reaches of the cave.
Far right, middle: The park has thousands of limestone stalactites and stalagmites for visitors to see.
Below: The rock formations of the Chinese Temple impress park vistors with their delicacy.
Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
Established: 1930 Acreage: 46,755
In the 1800s settlers discovered Carlsbad Cavern, drawn to it by the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of bats rising up out of the natural entrance in the evening. Not surprisingly, many were skeptical about the natural wonders of this huge, underground wilderness full of unusual cave formations.
The decoration of Carlsbad Cavern with stalactites, stalagmites, helictites and an amazing variety of other formations began over 500,000 years ago, after much of the cavern had been carved out. It happened slowly, drop by drop, at a time when a wetter, cooler climate prevailed. The creation of each formation depended on water that dripped or seeped down into the limestone bedrock and into the cave. Where water dripped slowly from the ceiling, soda straws and larger stalactites appeared. Water falling on the floor created stalagmites. Draperies were hung where water ran down a slanted ceiling.
Carlsbad Caverns is a sanctuary for about 300,000 Mexican free-tail bats. During the day they crowd together on the ceiling of Bat Cave, a passageway near the natural entrance. At night the bats leave the cave in huge swarms. At first a few bats flutter out of the cave, but soon the sky is darkened as a thick whirlwind of bats spiral out the cave. Once out of the cave, the bats fly toward the southeast to feed in the Pecos and Black River valleys. As dawn approaches, the bats head back, individually or in small groups. The bats migrate from Mexico to the caverns every year to give birth and raise their young.
Visitors can tour the underground chambers of the cavern, including the Big Room. Measuring 1800 feet at its longest, 1100 feet at its widest and 255 feet at its highest, the Big Room is one of the world's largest underground chambers. Some other highlights of the tour are crystal clear Mirror Lake and the Bottomless Pit, a black hole 140 feet deep. Above ground, visitors can take the nine and a half mile scenic drive through the dramatic desert landscape or hike along the backcountry trails.