The entrance to Carlsbad Caverns was silent. No-one else around other than the cave swallows swooping over our heads to catch the bugs and hurry to the nestlings peeking out from the muddy holes in the cave walls. No-one mentioned the swallows, only the Mexican free-tailed bats, who had not yet arrived from the south to perform their evening shows of dramatically exiting the ultimate bat cave at dusk. “Curiouser and curiouser”!
The slow walk to the mouth of the cave is simply breathtaking as the sights and sounds take my imagination off into magical tales of underground kingdoms. The opening is large and not surprisingly…cavernous. I am not sure what I was expecting. Yes, I expected to be impressed but not to be totally gobsmacked before even getting down into the first cave. The opening is huge and as I drift into the darkness it takes a few minutes for my eyes to adjust. The lighting is particularly beautiful. Large features are lit from hidden sources and the rest is just visible but not in great detail. The cave entrance, the “Twilight Zone” has to be lit in the most minimal way so that animals are not tempted to enter and get lost and starved.
As I move deeper into the cave the sounds of the swallows around the entrance area start to subside and I start to notice a different kinds of sound; drip, drip, drip. It takes 8 months for the water to move into the cave and slowly drip through and anything above the surface will eventually make its way into these limestone caves and drip. Unfortunately this includes all of the fallout from the car park on top of the cave. The dripping starts to fade into the background as I begin to grasp the scale of the caverns. I make my way through the first cavern and after turning a corner look down and gasp at the next huge cavern that I am about to descend into. Let me remind you that Chris and I still have the entrance caves to ourselves. When you get to the caverns you have the self guided option of taking the lifts 750ft down into the main showcase caverns or you can walk down – WALK DOWN!
I don’t know what to do with myself, so I just stand there trying to take it all in. No matter which direction I look in it all looks wondrous. So I continue on and am presented with about 3 more caverns each more awe-inspiring that the one before because each one is not expected. By the time I make my way to the base of the cave I gather myself together and prepare for the aptly titled, “Big Room”. This is even more decorated that the caves I just floated down through, glistening white rock of many different shapes and textures hanging from the roof, jutting out of the ground, stalacmites and stalactites creating fairy grotto’s. This cave is busier with people now but all around me I can hear sharp intakes of breathe as the cave reveals it’s quiet glory to passers-by. The park wardens ask that you do not talk louder than a whisper so the cave is full of hushed “wows”, or “awesome”.
Words cannot really explain how sublime the caverns are and the experience of being able to walk through them marvelling at the wonder of nature. I cannot think of any man-made structure that is more beautiful or human that this. Needless to say, the next day Alice went back for more but could only dream of the wonders to behold in Lechuguilla caves in Carlsbad, discovered in 1986 and known to be the longest cave in the world. It is still being explored and has yet to reveal all of the caves to it’s explorers.
The caverns were explored the lost comprehensively by a 16 year old cowboy called Jimmy White who stumbled upon the opening in 1901. “I worked my way through the rocks and brush until I found myself gazing into the biggest and blackest hole I had ever seen, out of which the bats seemed literally to boil. … I couldn’t estimate the number, but I knew that it must run into millions.” He ultimately spent his life dedicated to exploring and preserving the caves for others to see.
S Highway 62/180 from either Carlsbad, New Mexico (23 miles to the northeast) or El Paso, Texas (150 miles to the west). Carlsbad is served by Greyhound and TNM&O bus lines, or you can fly into Albuquerque, New Mexico, or Midland, Texas. Mesa Airlines flies between Albuquerque and Carlsbad.
Where to Stay
There are plenty of places to stay in Carlsbad or even White’s City which was a bit grimsville US for me. We stayed in the friendly family run Carlsbad RV Park which is about 20 miles from the caves. As for Carlsbad, there’s nothing much exiting going on other than stocking up on your groceries.