|This post takes us back to a couple of weeks ago while still in the Carlsbad, New Mexico area. Sorry to be so long in posting, it's just been very hectic. I will do a couple of more posts very soon, I promise. We appreciate each and every one of our readers and are very glad you are here! Today's post is very picture intensive. I did the best I could in pairing down to a reasonable amount to share. Hopefully you will enjoy visiting the cave by way of our photos in case you never get the opportunity to visit yourself.....Enjoy!
We started our day at Carlsbad Caverns with a short film shown in the visitor's center. Done by the Discovery Channel, it actually covered several caves across this great country including Mammoth Cave. Unfortunately, Mammoth was closed when we traveled through Kentucky recently. We'd hoped to visit it so guess we'll have to go back again sometime soon. After viewing the film we each rented an audio 'wand' for a nominal $5 fee to enhance today's self-guided tour.
We then entered the cave through the Natural Entrance, descended 750 feet at a leisurely pace and arrived a mile+ later at the rest/dining area below. We'd worn sweatshirts this morning as we knew that the cave is at a constant 56 degrees. Well, I'm not sure why, but Larry & I were both hot! We ultimately decided to ride the elevator back to ground level, get a bite to eat, change into a t-shirt and then ride the elevator back down for the second half of today's excursion. The restaurant was offering a daily special, a beef brisket burrito with potatoes and green chili's. Very tasty, we both enjoyed it very much. A quick ride back down the elevator shaft and we were ready to begin the second half of our day. But first, a little cave info for you!
More than 1,000 years ago prehistoric Native Americans ventured into Carlsbad Cavern seeking shelter. They left behind no record of what their impressions of the cave were, but they did leave some mysterious drawings on cave walls near the natural entrance. Much later, in the 1800s, settlers discovered the cavern, drawn to it by the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of bats rising up out of the natural entrance in the evening. Some stayed to mine the huge deposits of bat guano in the cave and sell it as a natural fertilizer. One such man, a cowboy named Jim White, became fascinated by the cave and spent hour after hour exploring it. White was eager to show the many natural wonders of this extraordinary place to others, but few persons believed his improbable tales of a huge underground wilderness full of unusual cave formations. For 17 years, no one would listen or believe. It took photographs to convince skeptics that Carlsbad Caverns was everything it was said to be and more.
Black and white pictures taken by Ray V. Davis, who accompanied White on a cave trip, were displayed in the town of Carlsbad in 1915. They created a sensation. People suddenly clamored to see the marvelous cave for themselves. White took them on tours that began with an unceremonious 170 foot descent in a bucket once used to haul bat guano from the cave.
Word of the cave spread, finally reaching Washington, D.C. Again, there were nonbelievers, but in 1923 the U.S. Department of the Interior sent inspector Robert Holly to investigate and see whether Carlsbad Cavern was truly an outstanding natural scenic wonder. Originally a skeptic, Holly wrote in his final report: "...I am wholly conscious of the feebleness of my efforts to convey in the deep conflicting emotions, the feeling of fear and awe, and the desire for an inspired understanding of the Divine Creator's work which presents to the human eye such a complex aggregate of natural wonders...."
Later that year Carlsbad Cavern was proclaimed a national monument. White, who was to continue his cave explorations for most of his lifetime, became its first chief ranger. Seven years later Carlsbad Caverns National Park was created to protect the cave. Through illustrated articles published in magazines such as National Geographic and by word of mouth, Carlsbad Cavern became one of the world's most celebrated caves. Since its establishment, the park has been expanded and today includes 46,766 acres and more than 80 other smaller caves.
The story of the creation of Carlsbad Cavern begins 250 million years ago with the creation of a 400 mile long reef in an inland sea that covered this region. This horseshoe shaped reef formed from the remains of sponges, algae and seashells and from calcite that precipitated directly from the water. Cracks developed in the reef as it grew seaward. Eventually the sea evaporated and the reef was buried under deposits of salts and gypsum.
Then, a few million years ago, uplift and erosion of the area began to uncover the buried rock reef . Rainwater, made slightly acidic from the air and soil, seeped down into the cracks in the reef, slowly dissolving the limestone and beginning the process that would form large underground chambers. At the same time, hydrogen sulfide gas was migrating upward from vast oil and gas deposits beneath the ancient reef. This gas dissolved in the percolating ground water to form sulfuric acid. The added power of this corrosive substance explains the size of the passageways. The exposed reef became part of the Guadalupe Mountains and the underground chambers became the wonder of Carlsbad Cavern.
The decoration of Carlsbad Cavern with stalactites, stalagmites and an incredible variety of other formations began more than 500,000 years ago after much of the cavern had been carved out. It happened slowly, drop by drop, at a time when a wetter, cooler climate prevailed. The creation of each formation depended on water that dripped or seeped down into the limestone bedrock and into the cave. As a raindrop fell to the ground and percolated downward, it absorbed carbon dioxide gas from the air and soil, and a weak acid was formed. As it continued to move downward the drop dissolved a little limestone, absorbing a bit of the basic ingredient needed to build most cave formations--the mineral calcite.
Once the drop finally emerged in the cave, the carbon dioxide escaped into the cave air. No longer able to hold the dissolved calcite, the drop deposited its tiny mineral load as a crystal of calcite. Billions and billions of drops later, thousands of cave formations had taken shape. And, oh, the shapes they took! Where water dripped slowly from the ceiling, soda straws and larger stalactites appeared. Water falling on the floor created stalagmites. Sometimes a stalactite and stalagmite joined, forming a column.
Draperies were hung where water ran down a slanted ceiling. Water flowing over the surface of a wall or floor deposited layers of calcite called flow stone. Cave pearls, lily pads and rim stone dams appeared where pools of water or streams occurred in the cave. Like oyster pearls, cave pearls were made as layer upon layer of calcite built up around a grain of sand or other tiny object. Lily pads formed on the surface of pools, while dams formed where water flowed slowly on the floor. Another type of cave formation that decorated cave walls and even other formations was popcorn, which may have formed when water evaporated and left behind calcite deposits.
The Big Room is the largest known natural limestone chamber in the Western Hemisphere. Floor space in the Big Room is estimated at more than 600,000 square feet, an area comparable to 14 football fields! Wow, it is amazing!We loved it! If we were to live in Carlsbad we would love to come to the cave at least once a week. What a great place to get in a bit of exercise. We've been to many caves in the past 7 years and Carlsbad Cavern, especially the Big Room portion, is by far our favorite! There is no way we can fully share this experience with you. Even though the flash goes off, the colors, the textures & even the sounds of the cave are not transferable. I truly wish each & every one of you could have been here to share this experience with us. Hopefully many of you will get the opportunity to visit this wonderful national treasure sometime soon. One of our favorite places to visit in this great country, and that's saying alot!!!