New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns National Park: An Underground Delight

Carlsbad Caverns National Park isn’t really like many other parks as it’s actually a large underground cavern. The New Mexico Park was established back in 1930 and is approximately 47,000 acres in size. It sits in the Chihuahuan Desert and is surrounded by lizards and cacti.

Many people refer to it as the Grand Canyon with a roof. The caves can be found in the northern region of the desert below the Guadalupe Mountains. The area is one of the largest and deepest caverns in the world.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park(photo by cwsteeds)

The cavern was created millions of years ago as the area lay underneath an ancient sea. When the sea withdrew, it left a reef that was several hundred feet high, which was then buried under soil. Years later a series of honeycomb-shaped chambers were created in several spectacular formations. Some are as high as 6 storeys while others are delicate and tiny.

The passageways from the park’s main cave lead more than 30 miles into the surrounding desert. A few miles of these passageways are paved and easy to navigate. There are over 100 caves with Slaughter Canyon Cave being the most popular.

The mouth of the cave is one of the site’s most spectacular sights. This part of the cage is home to over 250,000 free-tailed bats during the summer months. They all start to hunt for small insects to eat around sunset each night. These bats were the main reason the cave was discovered again after all these years. Early in the 1900s, miners started to excavate bat guano, which can be used as a fertilizer, and they shipped it to southern Californian citrus groves.

You can find this fascinating park about 20 miles southwest of the town of Carlsbad and 165 miles to the east of El Paso, Texas. Both of these cities also have airports if you’re flying in. The temperature under the ground is constantly at 56° Fahrenheit. The main cave can get pretty busy on long weekends and in the summer months.

The desert is in bloom during the spring and autumn; and if you would like to see the bats, the best time to visit is between April and October. If you plan on spending a day at the park, you will have time to check out the main cave and take a hike to explore the area before returning at sundown to see the bats hunt for their dinner. If you would like a more rugged experience, you may want to head to Slaughter Canyon Cave.

There’s a tour known as the Big Room Tour which starts with a quick elevator trip to the Big Room. When you reach this site, you will be able to view many different formations in the cave which aren’t open to the public. If you would like to explore more caves after taking this tour, you can head back to ground level and then take another expedition known as the Natural Entrance Tour. There’s also another tour available known as the Kings Palace Tour, which features some more fantastic formations.