John & Brenda's Excellent Tour travel blog

The natural entrance to Carlsbad Caverns

The 750 vertical feet trail down to the main caverns

A small part of the Big Room

April 17

We got underway early for our visit to the Carlsbad Caverns, a 20 mile drive south of the town of Carlsbad along the eastern edge of the Guadalupe Mountains and the northern edge of the Chihuahua Desert (Spanish for "home of tiny purse dogs"?). We left the flat desert to wind thorough a rock canyon lined with prickly pear cactus and blooming yucca plants. The headquarters and visitors center were built in an adobe style in the 1930's, once again under Roosevelt's depression fighting strategies.

After reviewing our options, we elected to walk in the Natural Entrance, originally discovered and explored in the late 1800's. The entrance is famous more recently for its dusk bat flights when a colony of some 300,000 bats take flight for the evening insect hunt. They migrate to the caves from southern Mexico around this time of year and leave again in October. I snapped off a picture at the entrance only to be informed by a flashing message that the battery had expired; Murphy lives in caves, too. We were met at the entrance by a ranger who gave us many cautions about taking no food or gum, touching nothing but the handrails, no yelling for echoes (in fact, only to speak in whispers) but have a good time. I think he may have been a retired drill sergeant.

The walk in is a steep, switchback, paved trail with just minimal lighting. As we walked down, we appreciated the value of speaking in whispers; it lends a truly spiritual air to the visit and expands the natural magnitude of the experience. We had rented handheld audio devices into which you punch a designated number at stations along the walk to learn about the history of exploration, explanations of natural structures and the cave's life and evolution over the eons.

There are not enough superlatives in the English language to describe the cave sights or the personal experience of being there, at least not in my attempts to record them here. The size, scale, beauty and joy of discovery are beyond belief. You gotta go! After being so impressed at every turn in our walk down the 750 feet from the natural entrance, we eventually entered the aptly named "Big Room". The closest I can come to comparing this to anything is if you were to take the most spectacular cathedrals in all of the major centres in Europe and combined them into one, you might get halfway there.

Having absorbed as much as we could in our 3-hour self-guided tour (Gilligan?), we were glad to take the 1-minute elevator ride back to the surface. Early visitors to the cave had to go back up the way we came in, a 5-hour ordeal up rock-strewn gaps and rickety ladders or stairs. We found a CD of cave pictures, which we bought so we could post some representative pictures to this journal as well as show the grandkids (to hopefully inspire them to come here someday). Carlsbad Caverns has to be at the top of the list of 1,000 things to see/do before you die. We both agreed it would be the top of our list of the most memorable experiences of our lives (other than, maybe, you know....).

We had planned our day so that we could spend the late afternoon at the Living Desert State Park, just north of the town of Carlsbad. It was OK but can't really touch the Living Desert in Palm Desert. We had a pleasant stroll for 1½ hours and then I was ready for a nap after a very full day. On our way back to the motel, we took a side street to drive along the Pecos River through town, where they have a pretty park, swimming beach and river walk that will have to wait for our next visit here.

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