Carlsbad Caverns

Above and Right: Two views of the caves of Carlsbad from inside and out. Photos courtesy NPS.

Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns

It is the land, in fact, the subterranean land, that marks the history of this spot. In one of the few historic landmarks of the United States almost completely underground, this New Mexico landmark has amazed millions of tourists since its founding on October 25, 1923 as a National Monument to preseve the over one hundred caves in the cavern reef. They reach to a depth of 1,567 feet, which is the nation's deepest. It would take seven years more for the caverns to be designated a National Park. Two historic districts are now held within park borders; the Carlsbad Historic District and the Rattlesnack Springs Historic District.

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Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns Then

The history of the park includes much beyond the caves themselves, although they are certainly the main attraction. For thousands of years, twelve to fifteen thousand in fact, American Indians lived within the boundaries of the park. By the year 1400, the Mescalero Apache tribe had made the Guadalupe Mountains area their home. In the ensueing years, Spanish explorers led by Cabeza de Vaca in 1536 traipsed through the arid countryside, followed later by the troops of independent Mexico, and beyond that, the settlers and government of the expanding United States. All brought their influence into the southwestern area that would shape Carlsbad and the culture. Eddy, New Mexico, the town that would become Carlsbad took root in 1888, twenty-four years before New Mexico statehood was accepted in Washington. Although disputed, it is thought that Jim White, a sixteen year old cowhand, was the first settler to enter the caverns. What seems undisputed, however, is that fact that it was Jim White's devotion to the caves that made its exploration and visitation a possibility.

Carlsbad Caverns Timeline

1898 - Jim White becomes first settler to enter the caverns (disputed).
1915-18 - Ray V. Davis takes first photos of the cavern's Scenic Rooms and Big Rooms, stimulating interest in the caves.
1923 - Davis photographs appear in the New York Times.
1923 - The General Land Office surveys and maps the caverns, recommending a National Monument be established, which occurs on October 25.
1925 - Stairs from the natural entrance to the Bat Cave are installed.
1926 - First trails and electric lighting system.
1930 - On May 30, Carlsbad Caverns National Park is established.
1932 - The 750 foot elevator goes into operation in January.
1937 - Slaughter Canyon cave is found by Tom Tucker.
1959 - The current Visitor Center is completed. Movie "Journey to the Center of the Earth" is filmed in the caverns.
1967 - Self-guided tours of the Big Room start.
1995 - Carlsbad Caverns National Park is designated a World Heritage Site.

Photo above: The King's Palace, part of the main tour, at Carlsbad Caverns. Source: National Park Servivce/Peter Jones. Below: Photo above: Lakes of Left Hand Tunnel. Courtesy National Park Service/Peter Jones.

Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns Now

In some ways, what is most remarkable about his spot is that fact that it looks like almost nothing else on earth. The first thing thought one might have when embarking from the elevator ride into the core of the earth or on a more natural walk from the original Natural Entrance is the fact that it looks a bit like Mars, or some lunar landscape with stalagmites and stalagtites dipping and rising from the ceiling and floors. Plus, its size is amazing, ... Carlsbad Caverns is a massive environment. While there are places in Carlsbad that seem cramped for certain, it is unlike most other caves in the United States due to its sheer immense size and the height of it rooms.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park - The Big Room and more than one hundred other areas, including features such as the Chandelier (left) and the Natural Entrance. Visit the main Visitor Center first to get oriented. Don't discount Slaughter Canyon Cave or Ratttlesnake Springs, two areas off Rt. 418.

There are also a variety of exterior trails to explore, but be wary of the weather, harsh conditions, and difficulty in the elevation changes of this area of New Mexico.

Trail List

Yucca Canyon Trail - 7.7 miles (one way) with 1,520 foot elevation change.
Slaughter Canyon Trail - 5.3 miles (one way) with 1,850 foot elevation change.
Old Guano Road Trail - 3.7 miles (one way) with 710 foot elevation change.
Guadalupe Ridge Trail - 12 miles (one way) with 2,050 foot elevation change.
Rattlesnake Canyon Trail - 2.2 miles (one way) with 670 foot elevation change.
Juniper Ridge Trail - 2.8 miles (one way) with 800 foot elevation change.

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Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns

Things You Should Not Miss

1. Going down. There's a choice when visiting Carlsbad Caverns, but the elevator ride is worth the trip on its own. For most visitors, the initial elevator ride deep into the caverns sets your visit in motion. And once you step inside the deep earth, the immenseness of the rooms are breathtaking. They remind you of nature's soundstage and may prompt a video rental of "Journey to the Center of the Earth," filmed here by the way, when you get home.

2. For those who like the more natural way, take the self-guided tour from the Natural Entrance. Whether you go in by man-made elevator or your feet, both entrances provide tours into the cave and a cavern temperature around fifty-six degrees. The Natural Entrance is more arduous, so take that into account.

3. The park museum, which includes over one million items on the culture and history of the Carlsbad Caverns area.

4. Watch the bats at the Bat Flight Program. Go to the Bat Flight talk held in the amphitheater at sunset time (check at the Visitor Center for the exact time), held from Memorial Day through September, then watch the bats fly. There are now around 200,000 bats in Carlsbad Caverns. This is well below the 1936 high approximating 8.7 million. Use of pesticides is often thought to be the cause, but the bat flight program is still pretty impressive with a couple hundred thousand participants available to take off.

Photo above: Temple of the Sun. Courtesy National Park Service.

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