ALL PHOTOS BY Autumn Bippert
CARLSBAD, N.M.– The air is humid, and the underground trail is dimly lit.
The atmosphere may be gloomy and damp, but it is full of opportunities to learn and witness amazing monuments.
Carlsbad Caverns is a cave attraction, consisting of 119 caves, in the Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico, located about 30 minutes away from the town of Carlsbad. Guided tours are provided, or visitors are allowed to tour the caves on their own.
“The busiest time of the year is July, during the summer,” said Don McCombs, who works in the Offices of Resource Management at Carlsbad Caverns.
After either riding the elevator down to the caves or going through the natural entrance, the first attraction is called the “Big Room.”
“The Big Room is probably the most popular attraction because it is the largest cave of the Western Hemisphere,” said McCombs.
The size of the cave is equivalent to 14 football fields, making “Big Room” the largest natural limestone chamber in the Western Hemisphere that has been discovered.
The cave is filled with beautiful stalactites and stalagmites rising from the ground and hanging from the ceiling.
Carlsbad Caverns was formed around 250 million years ago, when marine wildlife built a limestone reef. A few million years later, about 60 million years ago, hydrogen sulfide gas and water created sulfuric acid, which ate away and created the caverns. Around 3 million years ago, the water drained and formed the caverns, along with the enormous stalagmites and stalactites.
“The caves were probably discovered a long time ago by the Native Americans,” said McCombs. “But sometime in the 1900’s, Jim White discovered it and began telling people about it. National Geographic did a story over the park, and in the 1930’s, the president signed for it to become a National Park.”
The caverns contain little “pools” of water which can be found all around the caves. These pools remain from when the caves used to be filled with water, considering that there is no water flowing in or out. Longfellow’s Bathtub is the largest pool in the caverns.
The Bottomless Pit is one of the main attractions of the caves. When the cave was first discovered, the explorers could not see all the way to the bottom. The hole is actually not bottomless, but is 140 feet deep.
The Crystal Spring Dome is one of the largest and still growing stalagmites. It glistens with water and the minerals that make it continue to grow.
The Chinese Theatre is a sight where stalagmites and stalactites meet and connect.
The Doll’s Theatre is an opening, or little hole, in the cave that is full of stalagmites and stalactites. The speleothems, stalagmites and stalactites are very thin and are otherwise known as “soda straws.”
The Hall of Giants is a part the cave with towering domes, such as the Crystal Spring Dome, though it is inactive. The giant domes are interesting to walk beside because of how big they are. The Twin Domes, which are two identical domes, are also found in the Hall of Giants, along with the Totem Pole, a speleothem that is connected top to bottom.
Another feature of the caverns is a bat viewing area. During the evening, visitors gather at the entrance to watch bats take flight. Although the bats have migrated for the winter, the best time to view the bats take flight is toward the end of the summer, after mating season.
“The bats fly out every night to the middle of October,” said McCombs.
Touring Carlsbad Caverns is informative and interesting. Be sure to pack a pair of tennis shoes, due to steep and slippery trails. There are parts of the tour that are not wheelchair friendly. This tour is best suited for people who are into hiking and ready to learn about Earth’s mysterious creations.
“The self-guided tour usually lasts around two to two and a half hours,” McCombs said. “The tour with a tour guide lasts around an hour and a half.”
The experience is a fun way to hike and learn about caves and the history surrounding the area.
The caves are filled with beautiful and interesting sights, along with the history of the incredible formations.
“People should visit the park because it is an amazing cave,” McCombs said. “It’s one of the most famous caves in the world, and it has a lot of geological information.”