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Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico…

Posted by on October 15, 2014

OCTOBER 15, 2014: “Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing.”


“Totem Pole” in the Big Room at Carlsbad Caverns.

CARLSBAD CAVERNS. As we began our final approach to the Texas Hill Country for the winter, we stopped at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, located in the Guadalupe Mountains of Southeastern News Mexico. We see rocky slopes and canyons, cactus, grass, thorny shrubs and an occasional tree. Who could guess at the hidden treasures deep underground? Beneath this rugged land are more than 119 known caves…all formed when sulfuric acid dissolved the surrounding limestone. Three caves are open to the public, but the primary attraction of the park is the Show Cave, Carlsbad Cavern. It includes a large cave chamber called the Big Room, which is a natural limestone chamber almost 4,000 feet long, 625 feet wide and 255 feet tall at the highest point.

BATS IN THE BELFRY. Seventeen species of bats live in the park, including a large number of Mexican free-tailed bats. The most recent technique used to estimate the population of bats involved the use of thermal imaging cameras to track and count them About a million of them are thought to live in the caves. They are not harmful to humans and in fact the Rangers have a presentation early each evening which allows visitors to watch as a huge dense group of bats corkscrew upwards and counterclockwise from the cave entrance. The “show” starts around sunset and lasts about three hours. After locating and drinking some water outside the caves, the bats return by morning. Kind of creepy… but pretty interesting. And this will make you chuckle…Electronic devices such as cell phones and cameras are not allowed at the “Bat Show.” Use of these objects could interfere with the bats ability to navigate at night. Hmm, the opportunity for a creating havoc in the sky with over a million bats somehow strikes my funny bone. I doubt the bat-police-rangers would be amused. Breaking the rule is probably some Federal offense. Better not mess with the bats, I guess.


The Ranger-led “Belly Crawl Tour” didn’t tempt me even a little bit! I chose the self-guided tour where I could take an elevator into the cave and right back up to the surface, thank you very much!

OUR CAVERN TOUR. There are numerous ways to see the Caverns. One is to accompany a Park Ranger, who just so happens to also be a “caver,” on a guided tour. Some of these are routine. Others…not so much. For example, for a fee, a Ranger will lead you on a visit to colorful Spider Cave, including a chance for a tight belly-crawl into the bowels of this cave. It’s required that you bring three fresh AAA batteries on this tour. Hmm, I don’t think so. If I’ve got to crawl on my belly and bring along batteries, presumably to replace dead ones in a ranger-issued flashlight, this tour’s not sounding very tempting to me. I think I’ll take the tour where an elevator whisks you right down into the cave, where you can walk around at your own pace for as long as you wish. When you’re ready to return to the surface, the elevator is right there. See? Selecting the best tour for me wasn’t a difficult decision at all.

In fact, the self-guided tour was very good. What struck me as soon as I entered the cave was, “Wow, this is beautiful. It looks like the inside of the Indiana Jones ride in Adventureland at Disneyland.” Then it struck me: The Disney ride was patterned after the appearance of this cavern…just the opposite. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out, I guess. The second thing that was obvious from the moment I entered the cave was how incredibly quiet is was down there. It made me aware of what a noisy world we occupy “up here on the surface.” In the cave…the dimensions of which span miles I’m sure, you can hear another visitor whispering 50 yards away. In places, a drop of water dripped from the “ceiling” and I could easily hear that dripping noise from a distance. The absence of sound “felt good.” It was very serene and relaxing. Finally, I felt completely safe and secure in the cave, even though I was more than 750 feet underground. I had anticipated feeling a bit of apprehension once inside the cavern, but it never materialized. Having said that, understand a couple of things. First, now of course the cavern  is discretely lighted so that in areas which would otherwise be blacker than India ink, I could still see. Second, I wasn’t on that “belly tour” I mentioned. I’m sure if I took the “belly tour” and had only a pen light as I squeezed through narrow tube-like holes in the rock, I’d feel much differently. I definitely chose the right tour.


Entrance to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. We’ve been very impressed with the National Park Service at every park we’ve visited. It’s struck a good balance between preserving the primitive originality of the parks, while at the same time offering good access for visitors to witness our country’s special places.


This is a cut-away model of the caverns…sort of a 3 dimensional rendering. The dark line you see in the bottom of the cave shows the foot path for tourists to follow through the areas open to the public. It’s a winding trail…about a mile and a half long.



Gas fields and refineries throw off an unpleasant odor in southern New Mexico.

KOA SMELLS LIKE ROTTEN EGGS. While visiting Carlsbad Caverns, we stayed at the KOA Campground, adjacent to beautiful Brantley Lake. The park is highly rated and offers full hook-ups with 50 amp service. The RV sites are huge and the grounds are beautifully maintained. There’s lots of green grass. The staff is attentive and the store is well-stocked with supplies and sundries. There is even an on-site kitchen where BBQ dinners are prepared nightly…the meat is smoked right on the premises and will be delivered directly to your site on request. There are lots of amenities…even a heated swimming pool. There’s just one problem: Depending on the direction of the wind, the place often smells like rotten eggs at night. We learned that this has nothing to do with the park, but rather is caused by its proximity to natural gas fields and refineries in the area. It wasn’t a deal-breaker for us but it is something to be aware of if you’re planning to stay in the area when you visit the caverns. Reportedly, the unpleasant odor is an issue throughout quite a large area in Southern New Mexico. Well, cross “that one” off our list of places to consider retiring!


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