We had some rain, sleet and a dusting of snow the afternoon before we went to the caverns in Carlsbad, New Mexico so it was a frosty, chilly 29°F the next morning as we made our way up.
We got there about 11 am and elected to take the 2 self guided tours into the caves. Entry fee was $10/person. For another $5 you get an audio rental guiding you through the caves, pointing out highlights, giving you some history and generally just keeping you company. There were also a few ranger guided tours that you pay a premium for and they take you into places that are not accessible on the self-guided tours. We’ll take that next time!
You have 2 options to get into the “Salon Grande” or “The Big Room” – take the 1 minute elevator OR walk the natural entrance route – 1.25 miles descending 800’ into the caves. The route was described as steep and narrow but it wasn’t bad at all. Entire pathways are paved with hand rails installed. The first 250’ you had light streaming down from the natural entrance and after that it was pretty dark – you had to stop and let your eyes adjust. There was some lighting in spots to help but we sure wished we had our headlights. We’ll bring them next time!
The Natural Entrance Route was expected to take 1 hour – depending on how many times you stop for pictures or stop to stare in awe and amazement. It took us about 90 minutes and the most amazing part of the trek was that we had the place to ourselves for the first hour! Not another person in sight! It was a quiet day in the caverns – albeit dark and eerie…
Once we got down past the natural opening the temperature starting climbing. Temps in the cave are a constant 56°F all year round. I’m sure during the hot summer months the caves offer some welcome relief!
The trek down brought us to The Big Room route – a one mile, self-guided, 1 1/2 hour underground stroll around the perimeter of the largest room in the cave. Highly decorated and immense, this 8.2 acre Big Room was unbelievably beautiful. The audio tape succinctly explained the difference between stalagmites and stalactites, and introduced us to draperies, soda straws, columns, popcorn and cave pearls.
Admittedly, my photography skills are weak – preferring to set the camera to AUTO and simply point and shoot. This technique didn’t work so well in the caves and I deleted over 100 blurry, grainy and dark pictures. These pictures do not do the caverns justice – you just have to take my word that this place was unbelievably beautiful!
Everyone exiting had to take the elevator back up to the surface – less than 1 minute up for what took us 90 minutes to come down. I’m so glad we walked down!
The evening flight of the bats from the Cavern is another natural phenomenon as fascinating as the cave itself. In mass exodus at dusk, thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats fly from the cave for a night of insect feasting. You can view this spectacle from this outdoor amphitheatre at the cave’s natural entrance. Can you believe this? We just have to imagine what this looks like because we missed it! It only happens from mid-May through October. We’ll do that next time!
Stalagmites: …stand tall & mighty
Stalactites: …hang tightly to the ceiling
…worked for me!