One of my favorite parks, Carlsbad Caverns was like Disney World to me as a kid growing up in New Mexico. I certainly visited the caves as often as a Florida kid visits said theme park. As a “Rockhound” and Geology buff, I went there often on my own during high school, fascinated by the depths, the stalagtites, columns, and stalagmites. I still share the fascination at this world class cavern never bored on its fantastic features and creatures.
The Cavern is located about 18 miles southwest of Carlsbad in the Guadalupe Mountains of southeastern New Mexico. Anyone viewing the cave can hike in through the natural entrance, or if hiking disabled can take the elevator down to the bottom via the visitor center. The main chamber of the cavern that is the most famous is called “The Big Room” which is 4,000 feet long, 625 feet wide, and 255 feet high – as a large limestone chamber that is recorded as the fifth largest chamber in North America and the 28th largest in the world. There are over 119 caves and caverns in the park of which three are open to the public for tours but the main large show cave is the prime attraction. Slaughter Canyon Cave, New Cave, and Spider Cave are undeveloped with guided adventure caving tours available by reservation. Lechuguilla Cave has a prestine underground environment with delicate speleotems that once was used by guano miners. There have been over 120 miles of cave passages mapped and explored to a depth of 1600 feet.
The caverns were created roughly 250 million years before present when the area was once a coastline for an inland sea. At this time, there was a major reef called the Capitan Reef abundant with corals, sea creatures, and life. There are fossil records of Permian life including bryozoans, sponges, and other micro-organisms. Once the Permian period came and disappeared, most of the water evaporated leaving the reef buried in evaporites, sediments, and sands. There was great Tectonic action during the late Cenozoic which pushed the reef above ground, then it was hit by erosion, which sculpted the Guadalupe Mountains to how they are today.
As the water drained through the bed of limestone it was within the groundwater zone. The petroleum rserves were far beneath the limestones, and during the end of the Cenozoic, hydrogen sulfide (H2S) seeped upwards from the petroleum into the groundwater, combining with oxygen from the groundwater created sulfuric acid which continued upward dissolving the limestone deposits in its path creating caverns. The gypsum in the cave was the bbyproduct of this process when the sulphuric acid combine with the limestone. As the acidic groundwater drained from the caverns, speleothems deposited within the caverns and exposure to the influx of air into the cavern helped carve the caves we see today. As rain water and snow melt entered the cavern, it picked up carbon dioxide and as it reached the cavern ceiling precipitated and evaporated leaving calcium carbonate deposits that would grow dow from the roof as stalagites, this would create stalagmites, columns, soda straws, draperies, helictites, and popcorn features.
The cavern was first discovered by Euro-Americans in 1898 when Jim White, a teenage at the time, made a homemade wire ladder to climb down within – discovering the magical world before him. He assigned names to many of the rooms and features such as the Big Room, Queens Chamber, Papoose Room, Green Lake Room, Kings Palace, and New Mexico Room for the chambers, and Witches Finger, Totem Pole, Temple of the Sun, Fairyland, Rock of Ages, Giant dome, Bottomless Pit, Iceberg Rock for various formations.
Tourists were taken down into the caverns well before 1932 by means of a switchback ramp down to 750 feet and it was in 1932 that the visitor center was opened including an elevator for visitors who wore out easy or had difficulties walking down into the depths. They also built a cafeteria down below, gift shop, and restrooms. Millions of visitors now visit the caverns annually. The Guadalupe Room was discovered in 1966. Additional chambers and rooms were discovered in 1985 when new exploration techniques were invented discovering the chambers known as the Spirit World and the Baloon Ballroom. In 1993 a series of new smaller passages were explored that took the explorers well over a mile further discovering additional rooms outside of the New Mexico Room and being catalogued as “Chocolate High”. The bottom was discovered to the Bottomless Pit at 140 feet deep. In October 2013, a new large chamber was found hundreds of feet aboe the main area of the Spirit World and called “Halloween Hall” at 100 feet diameter with more than 1,000 bat bones on the floor.
They built a bat flight seating area so visitors could watch the bats fly out of the cave each evening with programs included and explanations of what is happening. There are often morning programs as well so that visitors can see the bats return to the cave. Most of the cave’s inhabitants are the Mexican free tailed bats who fly out each evening from the natural entrance to the nearest water sources. There have been recorded over 17 different species of bats in the park. The populations were estimated in the millions but much of the population has declined in recent years due to the use of DDT in the local surroundings by farmers and ranchers.
A recreation area detached from the park called “Rattlesnake Springs” picnic area is a natural oasis as a wooded riparian area in the desert, home to over 300 species of birds. The area is developed with landscaping, wildlife habitats, and picnic tables for visitors.
Rated: 5 of 5 stars. ~ Review by Leaf McGowan/Thomas Baurley, Technogypsie Productions ~
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