Reading Nevada Barr’s “Blind Descent” a few days before I left Texas resulted in a impromptu decision to visit Carlsbad Caverns. This instant of happy serendipity lead to the absolute highlight of my trip home.
Careful signs warn visitors about the trail down into the cave from the Natural Entrance. At that point I still was planning to hike back out (!).
It was a long drop from the entrance to the bottom, right around 100 feet, and that was why the Indians didn’t enter this cave past the dark zone.
The trail drops 800 feet in a mile or so, and with minimal lighting, is great. The best part, very few visitors choose this entrance! I got to experience the cave without the crowds for most of an hour on my hike down.
I tried a few pics, with sorry results. It wasn’t until I got into the Big Room that I discovered my iPhone would take really good shots!
Another surprise in the Big Room was a concession stand! Cavern visitors could have a some food, a cold drink, AND buy a T-shirt!?!?
OK, as it turns out, early visitors did enter through the Natural Entrance and they DID hike out again, and so, the tradition of providing refreshments at the bottom of the cave has deep roots.
I hiked the Big Room Loop, doing my best to dodge large groups of people. It really wasn’t so bad. They have 600,000 visitors annually. And there just isn’t much room to spread out.
After the Big Room I rode the elevator up to the Visitor’s Center to grab a quick lunch. Then made it back down just in time for the 3 pm Ranger lead tour of the King’s Chamber. It lasted another hour or so. Our guide was totally crazy about the caves and it was fun to listen to her stories.
I had caught a glimpse of the Green Pool on my hike down the trail and was really excited to get a closer look. The water in the cave is crystal clear.
This pillar is the last really big one before the tour ends. Even though I was really getting tired by now, I was so disappointed the tour ended.
There are two more ‘easy’ Ranger lead tours available. And then, there is a descent into the ‘Lower Room”. I’ll do the other two for sure, and maybe, even the Lower Room.
There are 130 miles of explored caves in the Guadalupe Mountains. The mountains were formed by the lifting a a reef (yes, think ocean!). And the basin at their base is what’s left of that sea. (Really interesting geology here. Out in basin are layers of salt).
The Pecos River runs through the town of Carlsbad. I didn’t get to see it either this trip. For sure I will go back!
(FYI, next summer, 2012, the Park has a contract in place to replace all the lighting in the Caverns).