Saturday, October 22nd.
**Lots of pictures. Don’t forget you can click on the picture to enlarge it.
We took this route through New Mexico at Michael’s request. He wanted to see White Sands and Carlsbad Caverns. He’d been to both places as a child (over 40 years ago) and wanted refresh his memory and since I’d never been to either place it was a bonus.
I normally do all the ‘planning’ for travel and leisure but Michael took the lead on today’s outing. He did some research and found that there were two ‘hikes’ that he wanted to attempt as well as stay for the bat flight program at dusk.
We decided that we should leave home about 11:00 am as we had nearly an hour drive to the Caverns from Brantley Lake State Park. Unfortunately, we didn’t leave until closer to 11:30 am but we still made it to the park about 12:15. We got in line for tickets and showed our America the Beautiful pass and saved $10.00 each. (Side note: We paid $80 for our yearly America Beautiful Pass in September and have gained entrance to $134.00 worth of National Parks/Monuments since it’s purchase) were given a map and directions and told where we could rent the audio program.
We went next door to the book store and stamped our Passport Book, purchased the sticker for the Caverns and rented two audio programs for $5.00 each. We would highly recommend spending the $5.00 for the audio program….you learn so much more as you walk through the caverns.
You can choose to go into the cavern one of two ways: either by taking and elevator or by walking down through the natural entrance. Michael chose the natural entrance and I’m so glad he did! The natural entrance is steep and can be rough on the knees and/or back but we both did fine. The 1.25 mile path is nicely paved and has a hand rail in most areas. The path descends about 750 feet to the ‘Big Room’.
It was an awesome walk! As you enter through the huge mouth of the cavern you can’t help but turn your nose up at the smell. We’re pretty sure the smell was bat guano…not 100% sure…but pretty darn sure considering we passed by the entrance to the ‘Bat Cave’ where hundreds of thousands of bats roost.
After a short while the ‘smell’ dissipates (or you get used to it) and you’re really able to enjoy the sights before you. Awesome stalagmites (growing up from the ground), stalactites (hanging from the ceiling), columns and other rock formations are everywhere.
Devil’s Spring is one of the formations we passed on our journey to the center of the earth. It’s not an actual spring but a limestone cavity that fills with dripping water.
It’s a cool 56 degrees in the cave year round. We planned to bring jackets with us and had them sitting by the door and….you guessed it….forgot ’em! Now we each have a nice sweatshirt jacket souvenir from Carlsbad Cavern.
Jim White is credited with discovering and mapping much of Carlsbad Cavern. Many of the rock formation were named by him as he explored the cave on his own.
Other formations are aptly named as well. Witches Finger is a 20 foot tall stalagmite that resembles a scrawny, scraggly witches finger!
On our journey down we passed by and old wooden stairway that used to be used for entrance into the cavern way back in the early part of the 1900s. Can you imagine having to walk down 750 feet on an old creaky wooden staircase….and then walk back up after you toured the cave??
We also passed by several intersecting paths that used to be used on the tour. The path to the Big Room has changed over the years and those old paths are now closed to the public and used for maintenance purposes.
The Natural Entrance trail ends at the ‘Lunchroom’….no not another rock formation but an actual lunchroom! They sell sandwiches, salads and yogurt and to drink water and Gatorade. They don’t allow food or flavored water to be brought in so as not to encourage outside predators to enter the cave.
We took about a 20 minute break and ate a sandwich. We also made sure to use the restroom that are located in this area as well. There is a gift shop here as well….selling shirts, miners helmets and battery operated lamps. There could have been more for sale but I didn’t look…those were just the obvious items as we walked by to sit at a table.
The second half of our excursion was to walk the trail around the Big Room. The trail is a 1 mile fairly level path around the perimeter of the Big Room. The Big room is BIG…about the size of 6 football fields…8 acres! And tall…super tall…Mikey says at least 80 feet tall.
If we thought that the walk down into the Big Room was beautiful…the Big Room is spectacular with its domes, spires, columns, lakes, etc. The majesty of this area is just awing. As usual we were kinda running low on time as they last elevator up is at 4:30 pm and we left the lunchroom at 2:50 pm…and the walk is estimated to take about an hour and a half. And you know us…we’re slow…take our time…talk pictures…explore and just enjoy. So we didn’t end up taking nearly the time we would have liked to.
Pictures, of course, don’t do justice to the wonders and beauty we experienced in the Big Room. But I will do my best to help you live vicariously through our adventure.
The Lions Tail was one of the formations that was easy to see why it was named as it was. I long thin stalactite hanging from the ceiling the ends in a ‘bulb’ of popcorn….just like a lion’s tail. Very cool.
Both of the tours we took were self-guided, which was awesome as you can take them at your own pass…stop and start at will. Rest if needed.
The Hall of Giants is made up a three HUGE formations – two 50+ foot stalagmites and one 60+ foot stalagmite that has turned into a column. They’re not just thin, straggly things either…their girth is tremendous!
There are so many different formations of differing levels of beauty it’s really hard to pick and choose what pictures to share with you.
At one point we passed an old ladder hanging from the side of the a cavern wall going deep into a black hole and thanks to our Audio Program thingy majigs we found out that this was ladder was installed in 1924 so that explorers could get down to and explore the ‘lower cave’.
Mirror Lake was one of the cooler stops as we stopped, listened to our audio recording, took pictures and just enjoyed the view and the silence. It’s actually pretty quiet in the cavern even with as many people as they are touring about. Everyone seems to respect the beauty of the cave.
We passed by the bottomless pit which is only about 140 feet deep…but back when this cave was discovered they didn’t have the exploration equipment we do now so it must have seemed bottomless…hence the name.
The ‘Draperies’ was probably one of my favorite formations. The draperies form when water containing limestone runs from the ceiling and over hundreds of years builds up and makes these beautiful formations. Most of these formations are no longer active (the water is no longer dripping so they are dry). But there are still wet or active formations inside the cave….the Crystal Springs Dome is an example of an active formation.
We made it to the elevators at 4:22 pm and had no wait before entering and heading up the 750 feet back to the Visitor’s Center.
We planned to stick around for the 5:45 pm Bat Program so with plenty of time we headed to the cafe within the Visitor’s Center and grabbed a drink and a bag of chips and sat at a table for a short while before heading to the amphitheater just above the Natural Entrance to the cave where the bats depart from.
We got to the amphitheater about 5:00 pm (so we got a good seat) and settled in for the wait as the program wasn’t to start for another 45 minutes. The bats hadn’t emerged until 6:40 pm the night before so we weren’t sure how long we’d have to wait.
We spent some of our time chatting with 3 guys behind us (two of which were from Wisconsin). Turns out one of the guys had been in the same battalion (397th Engineer) as Michael and they spent a lot of time throwing around names of other soldiers that they both know. SMALL world.
At 5:45 pm a park ranger came out and filled us full of ‘bat’ information. Unfortunately, the sound system wasn’t the best and Michael wasn’t able to hear much of what was said. I tried to fill him in on the more interesting facts but it still was a bummer for him.
Finally at 6:30 pm the bats started flying out of the cavern! Thousands of them….not in a mass heap…but in a controlled orderly rotation. They would kind of make like a tornado formation and swirl around the mouth of the cave and then whoosh….off a group of them would go….but the tornado was still in tact…swirling and twirling until…whoosh…off another group would go but that tornado was still there. We watched for about 10 or 15 minutes before we decided it was time to go….the rock wall we’d been sitting on for an hour and a half was tough on the behind! We’d heard that the bats departure usually took about 45 minutes…too long for us.
We stopped from dinner in Carlsbad on the way home and ended up getting home about 9:30 pm. A long day…about 7 hours of it spent at the Cavern’s but so very worth it. If you ever get the chance to visit Carlsbad Caverns…do it!