Carlsbad Caverns National Park is one of the most awe inspiring places on Earth. Located in South East New Mexico in the United States of America, the park is located near Carlsbad New Mexico. Carlsbad Caverns National park covers an area of nearly 47,000 acres and has over 400,000 visitors of all ages annually.
Carlsbad Caverns are a series of connecting caves, caverns and tunnels which extend under ground in the Guadalupe Mountains for over a mile. The caves are some of the largest in North America and feature fascinating stalagmites and stalactites that are millions of years old.
The process of stalagmite and stalactite formation is known as speleogenesis. As rain water and snow melt seep down into the caverns they drip from the ceiling and as they evaporate a very small deposit of calcium carbonate is left behind. Over time (many millions of years) the deposit gets bigger and bigger forming the massive stalactites that are found in the caverns.
Stalagmites are formed in a similar manner. Water on the floor of the caverns evaporates leaving behind mineral deposits which over many millions of years build up creating stalagmites.
Carlsbad Caverns’ creation was not simple or quick. The park area is situated in a bed of limestone. This limestone was originally below the ground water level; below the ground water is a large petroleum reserve. Hydrogen sulfide began to seep upwards from the petroleum layer and as it mixed with the oxygen in the ground water sulfuric acid was formed. As the sulfuric acid continued to push upwards it dissolved the limestone rock to form the caverns. Large deposits of gypsum were left in the caves as a by-product of the acid and limestone mixing. The Talcum Passage is a tunnel in the caverns where the floor is covered with white gypsum dust which helps prove the theory of how the caverns were created.
There are many caves located in the caverns. The largest is known as the Big Room which features many amazing underground geological features such as column, soda straw, popcorn and drapery speleothems. Spectaular colors in the rock walls are caused by different types of mineral deposits. The Big Room is nearly 4000’ long, 625’ wide and over 250’ high.
The Guadalupe Room is the second largest room in the caverns and is known for its vast collection of soda straw stalactites. Other notable rooms in the caverns include the King’s Palace, Queens’s Chamber which is the most scenic of all the rooms, and the Lake of the Clouds which is the lowest point in the caves and is named for its large underground lake.
The Carlsbad Caverns are home to seventeen species of bats. After all what’s a cave without bats? The Mexican Free-Tailed Bat is the most numerous with a seasonal population of nearly a million bats. Each day at sunset the bats leave the tunnel in a swarm that can last up to three hours and been seen from a great distance from the entrance to the cavern. The swarm resembles a cloud of smoke or whirl-wind. In the early morning hours the bats return to the cave in another swirling spectacle. Park Rangers give special lectures outside as the bats (which fortunately eat only bugs) leave and return from their nightly hunt.
Carlsbad Caverns also have other features to visit such as Rattlesnake Springs natural oasis where over 300 of New Mexico’s 500 species of birds can be found. Rattlesnake springs also has a picnic area for family’s to rest or enjoy lunch. Back country camping in the desert areas of the park is available with the purchase of a permit.
There are also three hiking trails and an unpaved drive route providing access to the park’s unique desert scenery. Carlsbad Caverns are accessible to most people and there is an elevator available for those who may have difficulty walking into or out of the main entrance. You do not need to be a caver or spelunker to view the majority of the cavern’s rooms. Special cave tours of the more difficult to access rooms and tunnels can be arranged at the visitor’s centre.
Carlsbad Caverns offer some of North America’s most unique scenery. On your next trip to New Mexico, make time to go under the desert and see what secrets are hidden in the sand.
Copyright 2016 Mike Wilson