May 1st – Wednesday was predicted to be another scorcher, with highs in the upper 90s, so we decided it would be a good afternoon to visit Carlsbad Caverns.
All of the ranger-led tours were booked for the day, but we could do the self-guided Natural Entrance tour and Big Room tour, and decide if we wanted to come back another day for a ranger-led tour deeper into the cave.
It was almost an hour drive down to the cavern from Brantley Lake State Park, and leaving after lunch we got there just in time to still hike down through the Natural Entrance – they only allow visitors to enter through the natural entrance until 2pm, and we bought our tickets at 1:40. Once again, we used our National Parks pass for free entry!
Carlsbad Caverns are located where the Chihuahuan Desert meets the Guadalupe mountains, and even above ground it is a beautiful park.
After getting our tickets and stopping in the bathroom, we made our way to the Natural Entrance, where we had a short orientation talk from a Park Ranger.
We’ve been to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky a couple of times, and the natural entrance here looks very similar.
We followed the asphalt path around the switchbacks,
being especially careful where the rangers were washing the path! We quickly descended the first 200 feet to Bat Cave,
where thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats spend their days, exiting the cave at dusk in a massive emergence. We’d love to see that, too, but probably wouldn’t make the drive back down in the evening.
This area of the cavern is called the twilight area, because some natural sunlight is able to make its way below ground.
From there, we continued into the Main Corridor, gradually descending deeper underground.
At this point, there was no more natural light, and if not for the artificial lighting placed in the cavern, we would be in total blackness. (I was happy to see backup emergency lights in numerous locations throughout our hike!)
Along the Natural entrance tour, you descend a total of 755 feet below ground, at a pretty steady downward slope, but the hike seems easy with the cool temperature in the cavern.
We went through a few narrow passages,
and up a few steps, but for the most part it was just an easy downhill walk through beautiful formations!
We continued past iceberg rock,
and found it hard to believe that this was just the path to get us into the heart of the cavern! There was so much more to see once we reached the Big Room!
We also managed to study a little chemistry along the way, and learned how the various stalagmites and stalactites formed.
When we reached the Big Room, we stopped in the rest area for a snack and a break,
and then proceeded to the Big Room Tour.
There was SO MUCH to see in the Big Room, which really didn’t seem like a single room, but rather a series of passages and tunnels.
We looked up,
we looked down,
and all around us!
So much of it looked like ice, but it was rock, and for the most part the formations here at Carlsbad Caverns are no longer growing.
Crystal Spring Dome is one exception --
the soda straws and stalactites continue to drip water onto this giant stalagmite, and into the pool beneath it.
We saw several pools along our hike, and the water was so crystal clear you almost couldn’t tell it was there!
We continued around the Big Room, with Bryce leading the way,
and passed by several more named features -
Temple of the Sun,
Rock of Ages,
and Caveman Rock (which really looked more like “Planet of the Apes” to Tom and I!)
The one thing that continued to amaze me as we walked around, was that we were able to tour this massive expanse of cavern completely self-guided! There were rangers around, keeping track of people, and probably making sure that nobody ventured off the trail (which you really couldn’t do inadvertently – it would have to be intentional), but we were basically all on our own down there.
We did see a couple of rangers working – they were climbing down into the “Bottomless Pit” to retrieve trash.
There was definitely no shortage of amazing views, but eventually it all started blending together, and we picked up our pace to finish the tour,
and the silliness started to show!
It was a great afternoon, though, and we really enjoyed the numerous caves and rock formations that we saw throughout our hike. We did decide that these two self-guided tours gave us plenty of exposure to the caverns, and we did not need to return for a ranger-led hike. Between the Natural Entrance Tour and the Big Room Tour, we spent about 2-1/2 hours in the caverns, and that was plenty of time!
Some people choose to hike out through the Natural Entrance, too, but to do that you need to be there in the morning. There was a sign when we reached the Big Room that said that you must begin your hike out by 1pm, in order to reach the Natural Entrance before it is locked at 2:30pm. I’m not sure how many people actually do that – we only saw one couple exiting as we entered, and we didn’t pass anybody along the way.
So, how did we get out?? Well, the easy way, of course!
Another great experience in our full-timing adventure!