Carlsbad Caverns

With its huge caverns, Carlsbad was somewhere I figured we needed to see.  So over the long weekend of 17 Feb 11, Tracy and I hopped on a plane and went down to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico. We flew from Salt Lake to Albuquerque on Thursday night and then rented a car and drove towards Carlsbad. We spent the night Thursday in Moriarty, NM, and on Friday we drove to Carlsbad. We took a roundabout way to get there since we had all day, but that part of New Mexico still didn’t really interest us much. We drove through Roswell, but it was a bigger city and didn’t seem as “alien-y” as we had expected, so we didn’t spend much time there. Then we got into Carlsbad and got a hotel room. We hiked a little at Slaughter Canyon and then headed back to the room. On Saturday we got up early and headed out to Slaughter Canyon Cave for our reservation to hike that cave. After a short 3/4 of a mile hike up to the cave entrance, the rangers met the group and we went into the cave. The cave was really cool. It was an easy walk, with lots of really cool formations. This was Tracy’s first real exposure to a cave, and she really enjoyed it. The cave was so big, though, that you really need a really bright flashlight to be able to see it well. The rooms are just too big for a regular flashlight. There were only about 20 people on the guided tour, so it wasn’t too bad. The cave itself was really cool.

After leaving Slaughter Canyon, we drove up to the main cave and hiked in from the Natural Entrance. The main cave is more developed and the route through the cave is a paved walkway, unlike Slaughter Canyon. There are also electric lights, unlike Slaughter. The descent down from the Natural Entrance was interesting, and it was cool seeing how deep the cave goes. Otherwise, the walk from the Natural Entrance was mostly uneventful. Once you get into the Big Room, though, the cave becomes really cool. It also becomes more crowded, because there’s an elevator down from the visitor’s center. But the Big Room is…well, it’s big. Really big. And it has all kinds of really cool formations. Unfortunately, it’s hard to describe all of the great formations, and it was hard to take pictures of them all. So, suffice it to say that it was great, and it was definitely worth seeing. It was amazing how big the room was and how extensive and varied the formations were.

After making the full loop around the big room, we tried to hike back out the natural entrance because the line at the elevator was really long. However, the trail out was already closed for the night, so we had to wait in line at the elevator. We eventually made it back up to the top and went back into Carlsbad for the night.

On Sunday we got up and headed back to the park for our next reserved tour of Spider Cave. This is a wild tour, and there were only six of us with two rangers to guide us. We had to wear helmets, gloves, flashlights, and knee pads. We had to climb down a ladder to get into the cave (after the ranger cleared it for rattlesnakes). I went first behind the ranger, and the beginning of the cave was so small and tight, that I thought I had taken a wrong turn since I couldn’t see the ranger’s light. The beginning of the cave will certainly test to see if you have claustrophobia.  Spider Cave was really cool, with lots of crawling and lots of really nice formations. The first part of Spider reminded me of caves back home, with tight crawls and narrow passages. Towards the back, though, the formations turned incredible, and it didn’t look anything like home. Again, it’s hard to describe the formations, and it was hard to take pictures, so I guess it will just have to suffice to say that the formations were really cool and definitely worth seeing. How was that for a description?

But we eventually crawled back out of the cave, hiked back to the car, and began the long drive back home. We drove west from the park over the mountains and spent the night in Alamogordo. We got up the next morning and checked out White Sands, which was kind of neat, but it wasn’t worth going out of your way to see. Then we drove back up into the Lincoln National Forest in the mountains outside of Alamogordo, and those mountains were pretty cool. It was nice to see some decent mountains there in southern New Mexico. But eventually we had to hit the road and head back to Albuquerque and catch our flight back home.

This was a really good trip. The Caverns are definitely worth seeing. The formations were incredible, and the rooms were huge. The park is so far from anything that I don’t know if we’ll ever go back, but I’m very glad we went.


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