National Parks Count: 26
Hey there fellow adventurers! If you have read any of my most recent entries, you know I did a New Mexico/Texas national park extended weekend trip! If not, then now you know and you can check out my entries on White Sands National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Park number 3 of this trip was Carlsbad Caverns National Park, found in a remote spot in southeastern New Mexico. There is no other way to say it: this place is spectacular!
Also a Unesco World Heritage Site, this National Park was established as such around 1930 and is located in the Guadalupe Mountains, near the later designated Guadalupe Mountains National Park. There is a really neat native history to this cave and geologically the cave was once a part of the same reef leftovers that now make up that mountain range.
I can count on one hand the number of caves I have been to and none have been this stunning. I have been to Mammoth Cave and I rated it 3.5 stars out of 5 🙂 Nothing against Mammoth…it was cool and all, I just wasn’t that impressed. That being said, I went with my mother and we did a lite tour and now I am thinking a return and more serious tour might be in order. Anyway, back to Carlsbad! And, spoiler alert this one is a hands down 5 star spot! Firstly, I guess I was a little surprised at how undeveloped the area is, which is good! But still, it seems like a place that sees a half million visitors a year there would be a little more around, but I digress! I was also a little surprised that the drive to the cave was UP. I guess cave, down in the earth? Anyway, once completing the couple miles of that road to the visitor center I arrived at the visitor center.
At this point I should point out the travails of this park with the covid situation. You absolutely must have reservations for the cave through recreation.gov. I have seen others saying that you can get walk up tickets…I did not see anything indicating that was possible. Also, the last tour must be started by 2.30 and the earliest tour starts no earlier than 8.30. Once you are in the cave you can stay until 4 or 4.30, I believe and you have to take the elevator out. To get into the cave you can choose the elevator down or to take the natural entrance.
I was very interested in taking the natural entrance. However, I had already hiked almost 7.5 miles earlier, and the natural entrance is a mile or so at 750 feet descent, and supposedly takes an hour. A) I was tired and B) I wanted to be back at my campsite at Guadalupe Mountains National Park before it got dark and my timeslot was the last of the day. So down the elevator I went: 750 feet straight down! At one point this was the second longest single lift elevator in the US!
Here is where the jaw dropping started! Getting off the elevator you are in a fairly large open room with a gift shop, restroom, snack bar. I was already impressed! To be fair, Mammoth Cave is LOOOOOONG. Like, longest in the world and number 2 isn’t even close…but a lot of those tunnels are just that, tunnels, and the rooms are not particularly massive in size. This first stop was a BIG room. The “tour” I was on was the only one available in the time of Covid: The Big Room Trail. Fun fact, this room wasn’t actually even “it”! After going down the path a bit and seeing some cool stuff…you go through a small tunnel and then….here it is! The BIG ROOM. But even then, this STILL isn’t the biggest or most impressive part, not by a long shot! After going through this spot the Big Room finally opens up to a gigantic size! The path through all of this was 1.25 miles and I think the NPS makes it at the equivalence of SIX football fields! The one thing that I found to be really different between this cave and Mammoth is the sheer number of features/structures/formations, or whatever you want to call them. Mammoth seemed more tunneled out and with more floor space that was flat and walkable. I do not know if I am describing it correctly, but in Carlsbad it seems every surface, save for the path, contains some kind of formation or feature! I managed to get some decent pictures with my phone set to the night setting. Using flash was not producing any good results, and neither was adjusting the ISO, interestingly. Either that or my photo skills are lame ;)! The only thing about the pictures, is that they do not seem to really do any justice to the scale of this cave since there is not anything way to judge perspective. I took some video (see the youtube link up top!) and that really helps with perspective in my opinion! I am going to do a bit of a photo dump here now…I hope you enjoy!
As I wrap up this entry, I should make note of the fact that this park is probably the first one that my experience may have been drastically altered by covid. There are normally other tours, including more “adventurous” ones that go down into the holes and further depths of the cave that I would absolutely love to come back and check out!
Overall impressions: Pros: The cave is amazing. Simply otherworldly. Cons: None for the cave. Not having ranger led guides and the other tours available is a temporary thing and in no way detracts from the experience!
The Adventurer Final Word:
5 Stars! Really awesome spot. I never knew I would be so damned impressed with a cave…but this did it. This is definitely a unique spot that is well worth the trip just on its own!