Spelunking in New Mexico
The alarm went off at 7 AM. After a cup of coffee Karen and I left the Chosa Campsite for our 8:30 AM appointment at the Carlsbad Caverns National Park. There are two options available to visitors when entering the cave system. Visitors to the cave can hike in on their own via the natural entrance or take an elevator from the visitor center. We opted for the walking route down and the elevator back up.
The Natural Entrance Trail is a steep 1-1/4 mile (2 km) descent, equivalent to about 79 stories, from the Natural Entrance to the Big Room.
The walk is steep in some places, but it is a paved path with handrails to keep people from wandering off. More importantly, it help keep visitors from touching the delicate structures along the way. There are phone boxes along the path to the rangers in the event of an emergency. They can also be used to report any attempts of vandalism. Hiking time to the main chamber was about one hour.
Carlsbad Cavern includes a large limestone chamber, named simply the Big Room, which is almost 4,000 ft long, 625 ft wide, and 255 ft high at its highest point. The Big Room is 8.2 acres, the largest, readily accessible cave chamber in North America and the 32nd largest in the world. Since 1984, explorers have mapped over 145 miles of passages and have pushed the depth of the cave to 1,604 feet. As we descended deeper and deeper the structures became larger and more complex. Seeing these incredible structures through the eyes of your imagination can take on the appearance of popcorn, dragon's heads, ghost, bells, and a whales mouth.
Photos give only a glimpse of the amazing stalagmites, stalactites, columns and linen sheets in this cavern but hardly capture the beauty and immense scale of these structures! In the image below you're looking at a 30 foot plus stalagmite below the ceiling in just one chamber of the Big Room complex.
We spent three hours exploring the cavern complex and according to Karen's Fitbit we walked 14,819 steps and 5.97 miles that day. We concluded our visit and used one of the Carlsbad Caverns' two elevators to return to the surface and the visitor center above the Big Room. The shaft descends 754 feet underground without any stops along the way, through solid limestone. I kept thinking as we went up, "has anyone ever been stuck in this elevator before?" Not a good time for a power failure...
What a natural wonder! Definitely make a point to see this incredible place in your travels; you won't regret the time and trouble getting to this amazing National Park.