Carlsbad Cavern National Park was established to protect the enormous caves under the southern New Mexico desert. While these caves are not the most ornate (“decorated” in spelunking terms) in the world or the largest, they are certainly some of the best caves in the world at combining size and beauty. The Park makes a good portion of them accessible to everyone.
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ILNP Park Review
In a Word “Otherwordly”
“He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings deep shadows into the light.” -Job 12:22
Our Visit We visited Carlsbad Caverns during March. The Park was fully open, but the bats which make Carlsbad famous were still in Mexico, so this eliminated the need to set aside time for bat viewing. We combined our day with a romp through Guadalupe Mountains NP, just a short drive down the road. We spent the morning in Carlsbad Caverns and the afternoon in Guadalupe Mountains.
Our Weather The weather was fabulous outside–high 70s and clear. In the cave it was high 50s and humid!
Overall Impression Carlsbad Caverns, one of the most unique places I’ve ever been to, is difficult to describe. Even two weeks after visiting, it still doesn’t feel quite real. When you first enter the park, you’re surrounded by yuccas and prickly pears–an uninviting landscape to say the least, but as you walk over the ridge and stare into the cave’s entrance, you can’t help but wonder what’s down there. Walking around the enormous caves (300 feet high in some places) and viewing the wild formation of stalactites and stalagmites, wonderfully back lit and shadowed by the Park Service, is so unlike anything else you’ll ever see that the whole experience seems quite surreal, but Carlsbad Caverns is everything you can imagine and more!
Favorite Spot Hard to say, but the entire Big Room was fantastic.
Minimum Time Required About 2 hours. In two hours, you can take the elevator down to the Big Room and walk around a bit before heading back out the elevator.
A Longer Visit On a half-day visit, you can take the steep, 1-mile downhill hike through the Natural Entrance and meet up with the mile-long trail around the Big Room before taking the elevator back up (the Natural Entrance trail is one-way: down). These two trails are the only ones open to the general public without a guide. In the summer, you can view tens of thousands of bats leaving the cave around sunset–an awesome sight, I’m sure. If you’re going to be spending a second day in the Park, consider scheduling a tour of one of the lesser visited caves viewable only with a Ranger-guided tour.
Suggestions While the hike through Natural Entrance is only a mile, it is strenuous! The path winds down more than 700 feet, and is relentless. I’m in good shape, and by the time I reached the bottom, my knees were aching and my legs quivering. My wife, Angie, was 6-months pregnant at the time, so she took the elevator and met me at the bottom. I’m glad I took the hike, but I don’t think Angie missed much by only seeing the Big Room.
While the desert above the caverns can be hot, the caves themselves are not. In fact, they’re pretty cool and humid, so dress in layers and take a sweatshirt or light jacket for hiking underground.
Photography in the caves is tricky. There aren’t any restrictions on flashes except when the bats are flying, so take as many photos as you like, just don’t expect many of them to turn out. I took 24 pictures, and only 6 really turned out. If you don’t mind carrying around a tripod, take it! Long exposure photos are the best way to photograph the caverns, but occasionally you can find a flat rock to rest your camera on for some longer shots.
If bat viewing is your thing, you need to go in late spring or summer because the bats winter in Mexico. When we went in March, the swallows were living in the caves and making quite a mess of the paths.
Nearby Towns Whites City, Carlsbad (New Mexico)
Other Nearby Attractions Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Official NPS Website Carlsbad Caverns NP
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