Carlsbad Caverns National Park
The Guadalupe Mountains on the Texas-New Mexico border reach heights of almost 9,000 feet. Not far away, deep beneath the surface, are hundreds of caverns formed when sulfuric acid dissolved surrounding limestone. The limestone is what remains of a coral reef of an inland sea from around 250 million years ago. There are over 113 caves within Carlsbad Caverns National Park but only two are open to the public. The temperature in the caves is always about 56 degrees F. For more details on cave geology, the National Park Service has great information. Carlsbad Caverns were open to tourists as early as the 1920s.
Entering through the “Natural Entrance,” we descended a gradual mile along the traditional explorer’s route to a depth of around 750 feet. In the early 1900s, the caves were used to harvest bat guano, a rich fertilizer. From May to October over 400,000 Mexican free-tailed bats (down from a high of 8 million!) live in one of the passageways. They leave at dusk and return to rest during the day, migrating to Mexico for the winter. Native Americans knew about the caves long ago, and artifacts including the ice scraper of an Ice-Age hunter and two spear points dating from about 10,000 years ago have been found nearby.
The “Big Room” at the bottom of the route is over 8 acres (the size of 114 football fields). Among the many amazing features is Iceberg Rock, a single 200,000 ton boulder that fell from the ceiling thousands of years ago. There was also an overwhelming array of cave formations: stalactites, stalagmites, flow stone, soda straws, lily pads, draperies, columns, popcorn, cave pearls and mirror pools.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park lies about 40 miles south of Carlsbad Caverns, and is definitely worth a look as well!
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