Galley Wench Tales

Exploring the world through the people we meet
and the food they eat.

Grand entrance to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico. What you can’t see is the swallows zipping in and out of the cave.

Carlsbad Caverns! 

Both Wayne and I were excited to see this incredible National Park for the first time.  Early American humorist Will Rogers described its magnificence as the “[Grand Canyon] with a roof on it.

Carlsbad Caverns, NM. Looking back towards the entrance from just inside the first cavern.

Within an hour and a half of pushing out of San Angelo Texas we left the rain and flash floods the plagued the area behind. Tornadoes touched down a number of areas nearby but not where we were. Those tornado warnings worked where they needed to — no fatalities. 

A series of saltwater lakes an hour or two before arriving at Carlsbad Caverns caught our eye. This particular one, just below one of many industrial trains cross-crossing the land was an unusual shade of green. The others were less dramatic, but clearly identifiable by the crust of salt along their shore. In case there was any doubt, we passed a salt processing facility.

Once we left Texas Hill Country, we saw oodles of oil rigs dotting the otherwise mostly barren landscape. Had we not spent so many miles driving vast stretches of unpopulated Australia, this part of the USA would’ve seemed like it was hell and gone from anywhere. Instead it was comparatively a walk in the park as there was always some small town within a few hours drive. 

One of many oil well pumps taken through our car window as we whizzed past. We saw them until Utah.

Eventually we approached the overpriced town of Carlsbad, then “White City,”* then Carlsbad Caverns. 

*White City, population seven, was named for Jim White, one of Carlsbad Cavern’s best known early explorers.

Ladders early Carlsbad Cavern explorers used.
Today many portions of the caves are wheelchair friendly.

Carlsbad Caverns inspired us to finally purchase an annual National Parks Pass. Another two National Park visits within the year and the pass would pay for itself. We slated stops for Black Canyon of the Gunnison Arches and Canyonlands and with a loop into the Southwest this fall after Labor Day, taking in the Grand Canyon with hiking/backpacking and camping gear and without a carload of our move possessions. 

One of many naturally sculpted caverns with the cavern known as Carlsbad Caverns.

It’s amazing what limestone, water and sulphur dioxide can do to an ancient fossilized seabed floor. To me it’s just as stunning  that Carlsbad Cavern’s magic still stands four million years after the cave’s creation process stopped — a treasure we and so many others had the privilege and good fortune to explore. 

Green Lake Room, Carlsbad Caverns. I took the cavern images in this post with my camera, without a flash.

The park website explains how these caves formed….
“Between four and six million years ago, hydrogen-sulfide-rich (H2S) waters began to migrate through fractures and faults in the Capitan limestone. This water mixed with rainwater moving downward from the surface. When the two waters mixed, the H2S combined with the oxygen carried by the rainwater and formed sulfuric acid (H2SO4). This acid dissolved the limestone along fractures and folds in the rock to form Carlsbad Cavern.”

I imagined some grand dinosaur opening its great maw when I saw these long,
sharp-looking stalactites in Carlsbad Caverns.

We took the self-guided tour, by foot, to see as much as we could in a relatively short stretch of time. We still spent a couple hours marveling in the 2 1/2 or so mile walk.

Fairyland as this section of the caverns is called is not something I could dream up! A dispensary would do a brisk business if there was one near Carlsbad Caverns. Recreational marijuana is not legal in New Mexico.

We agree with Jim White’s assessment of the caverns….

“I shall never forget the feeling of aweness it gave me … the beauty, the weirdness, the grandeur and the omniscience absolved my mind of all thoughts of a world above — I forgot time, place and distance.” 

I’m sure we are not alone. All but a few of the caverns explorers were quiet, speaking rarely, in hushed voices if at all. We quickly put distance between us and explorers who were noisy or used additional light or flash. We only had to do that a few times.

One of the few places in Carlsbad Caverns where we saw water.

The cavern air was not even remotely moist. 

These “folds” are often referred to as draperies.
They reminded me of tropical trees or waterfalls topped by broccolini buds.

From the national parked’s website, a few more tidbits

  • Carlsbad Caverns was made a national park on May 14, 1930
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park covers a total area of 46,766 acres
  • The number of people visiting Carlsbad Caverns in 2017 was 520,026 *
  • The lowest elevation found in Carlsbad Caverns is 3,596 feet at Black River
  • The highest elevation found in Carlsbad Caverns is 6,535 feet on Guadalupe Ridge
  • The caves in Carlsbad Caverns are 56°F throughout the year, with high humidity.
  • At present there are 117 known caves in the park, and more will be discovered. The cave known as Carlsbad Cavern is only one of these.
  • The Big Room in Carlsbad Caverns, at 8.2 acres, is the largest accessible cave chamber in North America.
  • Although Carlsbad Caverns is rightly known for its famous caves, there are also more than 50 miles of aboveground trails that explore the desert landscape.
  • There are at least 17 species of bats found in the park. The most common are Brazilian (sometimes called Mexican) free-tailed bats; they can be seen exiting Carlsbad Cavern each night.

* Complete annual visitation stats can be found at Carlsbad Caverns Visitation Statistics

Mexican Freetailed are the primary bats in Carlsbad Caverns, though 17 kinds live there.
We took the elevator out. We’ve heard the dusk “bat show” at Carlsbad is even more spectacular than Austin’s. However, we needed to log some more miles and planned to arrive in Roswell New Mexico before dark.

White City’s fuel sign also alludes to Carlsbad Cavern’s bats.

BEsides the caves, the park boasts a nice interpretive center, and hiking trails. The native landscape was lovely and rife with wildflowers when we were there. 
A strong a chilling wind as much as the pressure to hit the road curtailed my wildflower photography at Carlsbad.
These cacti flowers, unlike the others we saw, were able to hold steady in the wind.
Wandering the park without taking the cavern tour is free. If you’re able to set aside more time to enjoy the are than we did — do!

Location Location
Still catching up on blog posts. Today is Saturday, Memorial weekend. We’re in Irrigon, Oregon, visiting friends. We’re just under 200 miles to returning home, in Portland. We’ll be there today.