Exploring the Depths of New Mexico: Carlsbad Caverns

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The original ladder used to explore the cavern when it was first discovered.

Imagine traveling through the desert and spotting thousands of bats flying out of an opening in the earth. Then picture having the guts to climb down into this completely black hole with nothing but a lantern and a homemade ladder. The 16 yr old who discovered the caverns did this in 1898.

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The Carlsbad Caverns are located in the Guadalupe Mountains in southeastern New Mexico. Pat was adamant about visiting the caverns, but I was skeptical it wouldn’t be that exciting. As we arrived, I was expecting something similar to past school trips to abandoned coal mines in Pennsylvania, and a very boring time. Like the coal mines, you take an elevator down to the cavern’s “Big Room,” but that’s about where the similarities stop.

The Big Room, an accurate name, is large enough to fit over 6 football fields, and is the third largest cavern chamber in North America. This portion of the caverns is self-guided and family friendly. A lit path leads around the cave with lots of neat formations to see and plenty to learn about how they were formed. We spent our second morning there for about 2-3 hours.

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A view in the Big Room.

There’s plenty more to do at the caverns than just the Big Room, and we heard of some people spending a few days there all together. There are hiking trails around the outside that lead into the natural entrance. In the summer months at dawn, you can witness the flight of the hundreds of thousands of bats that inhabit the cave.

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A glimpse of a cavern nook in the Big Room.

In addition, there are several ranger guided tours available to experience more areas of the caverns. We reserved a spot in advance for the Lower Cave tour, which made the trip well worth it. I was actually surprised at how intense it was, but thrilled at the thought of adventure. You are part of about a 12 person group with two park rangers. You begin at a steep natural cavern ramp that leads to a series of descending ladders and landings. The drop is pretty high and my heart was pounding with an adrenaline rush; it was awesome! They equip you with a helmet, headlamp and gloves.

The rangers guide you to where the old ladder hangs that was used to enter the cave when it was first discovered (don’t worry, you won’t be using it 😉 ).  Near the end of the tour there’s a small tunnel you have the option to crawl through, but there’s also a walk around for the claustrophobic. Before heading back to the ladder entrance we were lead into a dead end where we all sat in silence and turned off our headlamps. It was serene and so dark I couldn’t even see my hand when held directly in front of my face. 

The trip to the Carlsbad Caverns was well worth it. If you plan to go definitely wear long sleeves as it is cooler in the caves, especially the lower ones. Hiking boots or supportive sneakers are a must.

Enough details, go explore it for yourself…Happy caving! 🙂

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Crawling through the Lower Cave!

Share your experiences with us! Did you do the Lower Cave or other cavern tours? We’d love to hear about it!

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