Cave Adventures at Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico


Kathy Horon

3 min read

Ever dream about discovering an unknown cave? Exploring it with only a friend or significant other and just a flashlight or headlamp to guide you? Experiencing the wonders of stalactites and stalagmites and hanging curtains and soda straws -- all made of dripping rock?

Carlsbad Caverns, NM
Carlsbad Caverns, NM

Probably the closest you can come to a grand cave adventure like this is to visit Carlsbad Caverns. Located in the Guadalupe Mountains of Southeastern New Mexico, Carlsbad is a vast network of more than 100 limestone caves. The natural entrance is a 1.25 mile switchback ramp that goes from the surface deep into the cave. You can take that long downward trek without a guide and feel like a true spelunker (cave explorer). You can also take another 1.25 mile self-guided tour to the Big Room. Charmayne and I did both of these hikes and LOVED them! It was the only time we have ever been free to wander unguided in a cave. We could pause and soak in the beauty at our own pace.

If your knees won’t tolerate 750 feet of downhill rambling, there are elevators to take you down from the Visitor Center. Here is where the ranger-guided tours begin (though you must book them upstairs at the Visitor's Center). We went on the Kings Palace tour and it's splendid. If you are physically impaired, Carlsbad Caverns has accessibility for almost everyone. You can take the elevator down and roam around the center of the caverns. The endless beauty in the Big Room alone is worth your trip. There are also bathrooms, snacks, and a small gift shop in the Big Room. All you need for a fun adventure. You are allowed to take your camera too!

by a teenager named Jim White. White was riding his horse through the desert looking for fences that needed mending when he saw a massive, dark, funnel-shaped cloud rising into the air. Not sure what he was seeing, White worked his way through the desert scrub and found a large opening in the ground. He discovered the dark cloud was made of bats! Jim, who wrote his story and self-published it in 1932, described the moment by saying, "I found myself gazing into the biggest and blackest hole I had ever seen, out of which the bats seemed literally to boil".

The caverns were discovered in 1898

Returning a few days later, Jim White ventured down into the caverns on a homemade wire ladder, with only a kerosene lantern to light his way. He was blown away by the beauty he found. White continued his explorations, naming many of the rooms he discovered including the Big Room, Kings Palace, and Queens Chamber. He also named some of the spectacular rock formations -- the Totem Pole, Witch's Finger, Iceberg Rock and Temple of the Sun.

which occurs between May and November. At sunset thousands of bats, including 400,000 Brazilian free-tailed bats, leave the cave in search of insects to eat. They spiral out and upwards in an enormous counter clockwise funnel. This can be viewed from an amphitheater where a park ranger narrates. There are so many bats that their departure can last up to three hours.

There is an entrance fee to Carlsbad (a three day pass). There are additional fees if you take any of the ranger- led tours. These can be booked in advance, if you are going at a peak time. Temperature in the cave is a balmy 56 degrees year round. You might want a light jacket. We went in July and faced a much smaller crowd than we would have found in cooler seasons. It may have been hot outside, but inside the cave we were very comfortable and crowd free.

Carlsbad is famous for its nightly bat exodus

We have to say that this is by far the best cave experience we have ever been on. It is magical!

There's a whole world to explore just outside your front door!