The Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located in the southeast corner of New Mexico in the Guadalupe Mountains. The desert landscape offers tabletop mesas, rocky canyons, and a network of over 100 underground caves beneath the Chihuahuan Desert. A visit to the park may begin at the Visitor’s Center with the 16-minute film, Hidden Worlds - Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The film uses high definition photography to showcase the natural wonders of the park including the caves, desert wildlife and flowering cacti.
The Natural Entrance Trail at the park guides guests along a stone walkway just over 1 mile into the Big Room chamber of the cavern, located over 750 feet below the surface. The Big Room is a 4,000-foot long natural chamber of limestone with a ceiling as high as 255 feet in some places. The chamber is the fifth largest in the United States, and the 28th largest known underground chamber in the world.
Guided tours take guests beyond the Big Room to several other named rooms among the underground network. Among these are King’s Palace, a highly decorated chamber which reaches depths of 830 feet below the surface. The 90-minute 1-mile tour requires a descent and a steep uphill exit. The Left Hand Tunnel tour is a moderately difficult lantern-guided tour. The 2-hour tour includes navigating steep, slippery slopes and is not recommended for those with difficulty seeing in low light. The 3-hour Lower Cave tour takes visitors down 60-feet of knotted ropes and wooden ladders into different chambers to view formations such as The Rookery, the Texas Toothpick and Colonel Boles Formation. The Slaughter Canyon Cave tour is a moderately difficult 6-hour adventure that takes guests to see one of the world’s tallest limestone columns, the 89-foot Monarch. Additional formations include the crystal-decorated Christmas Tree column, and the Chinese Wall. The cave is illuminated by flashlights and headlamps only, and all guests are required to bring three spare AA batteries for safety.
Above ground, several trails and backcountry treks allow guests to explore the Chihuahuan Desert, including the flowering cacti, agave and yuccas. The park is home to over 900 species and subspecies of vascular plants. Birding in the oasis area of Rattlesnake Springs is another popular activity. Over 350 species of birds can be found in the park, many in the isolated areas adjacent to the natural water source. The Rattlesnake Springs Historic District is a landscaped area surrounding the springs with a Pueblo Revival Style pump house built in 1933 and a Ranger’s Residence built in 1940.
History: The Park’s underground caverns were formed between 4 million and 6 million years ago when hydrogen sulfide escaping from fissures and faults in the limestone began mixing with the oxygen in rainwater to form sulfuric acid. The acid dissolved the limestone rock leaving behind clay, silt and gypsum deposits in the underground caves. Humans have been exploring the caves since pre-historic times, as evidenced by archeological finds in the area. Many of the cave’s ‘rooms’ were originally named by Jim White, who explored the park as a young boy in 1898 and later became a Park Ranger. Carlsbad Cave was designated as a National Monument in 1923, and was upgraded to National Park in 1930. Approximately two thirds of the park has been designated as a Wilderness Area, meaning no further changes will be made to the natural habitat. Both the Caverns and Rattlesnake Springs have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Over 380,000 guests visit the National Park each year.
Ongoing Programs and Education: The Bat Flight program takes place at Carlsbad Caverns from May through October each year. Visitors witness thousands of Mexican Free Tail Bats as they exit the caverns each evening at dusk in search of food. Bat Flight viewing takes place at the amphitheater outside the cave’s Natural Entrance. During the winter months, the bats migrate south to the Sierra Madre Oriental range in Mexico. Night Sky events are also popular as the park is located far from the city lights. Star Parties take place from May through the October immediately after the Bat Flight program. Guests may view the stars through the park’s high-powered telescopes. Rangers are on hand to answer questions, and educate visitors about the constellations, astronomy and local folklore. The ‘Give Me the Sun and the Moon’ program combines hiking with stargazing. On New Moon and Full Moon evenings, visitors hike with park rangers up to 1.5 miles through rugged desert terrain.
3225 National Parks Highway, Carlsbad, NM 88220, Phone: 575-785-2232