Post and Photos by Bobby
Visitors to Carlsbad Caverns National Park (located in the Guadalupe Mountains in southeastern New Mexico) can take self-guided as well as ranger-led tours.
We scheduled a King’s Palace tour for 10 am on Sunday morning, so we were able to have a slow morning (compared to what has been a rather hectic pace for much of our trip). We made the seven-mile drive from our campsite to the Visitor Center and arrived by 9 am. Because we had some time before the tour started, I decided to take the 1.25 mile hike through the Natural Entrance.
This trail descends 750 feet, which is the equivalent of a 75-story building. Cynthia enjoyed learning about the cave, speleothems, and the area’s ecosystem in the museum before taking the one-minute elevator ride to our meeting spot for the tour.
Ranger Ross gave everyone a safety briefing and told us to adhere to the wisdom of MC Hammer, “U Can’t Touch This.” The King’s Palace tour is one mile and goes even further down, to 830 feet, which is the deepest portion of the cavern that is open to the public.
During the tour, we learned that 250 million years ago there was an inland sea where the Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad are now located. There was a reef in the sea comprised of the remains of sponges, bryozoans and other microorganisms. After the water evaporated, the reef was buried. Later sulfuric acid dissolved the limestone to form the caverns.
Carlsbad Cavern is known for both its size and the amazing display of speleothems, which consist of stalagmites (rising from the floor), stalactites (coming from the ceiling), columns (when a stalagmite and stalactite meet), draperies (where deposits form in a delicate curtain-like fashion), soda straws (thin deposits) and cave popcorn (deposits that look like popcorn). The cave is generally 56 degrees and has 90 percent relative humidity.
The first chamber that we came to was King’s Palace.
Up next was the Papoose Room.
Then we went to the Queen’s Chamber, known for its elegant draperies.
The last chamber was the Green Lake Room.
After the tour, which had lasted almost two hours, we returned to the meeting area, where the elevator, small gift area and underground lunchroom are located. We had a bite to eat and set off on the self-guided Big Room Trail.
The Big Room is the largest chamber in the US, fifth largest in North America, and 28th in the world. It is over 4,000 feet long, 625 feet wide, and 255 feet high at its highest point. The trail is a 1.25 mile loop and took about an hour and a half.
One of the most impressive sites was the Hall of Giants.
And just some beautiful displays of speleothems.
After spending almost five hours exploring the caverns we were rather tired. We drove the 7 miles back to the Karavan.