ARMCHAIR TRAVELS TO CARLSBAD CAVERNS, THE ORIGINAL BAT CAVE, IN NEW MEXICO

ID 115255539 © Martin Schneiter | Dreamstime

I love a cave, any cave. There is something magical about a cave. It almost feels as though I am in a mermaid’s grotto whenever I see the beautiful stalagtites and stalagmite formations around me. I find it fascinating, too, that most caves remain a fairly constant temperature year round, no matter where there are located.

Caves transport us instantly to another time where it feels as though time elapsed photography happens before our eyes, as these beautiful cave formations happened drip by drip over many many years.

Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico is a beautiful example of a cave in all its glory. This area was surrounded by water approximately two hundred and fifty million years ago, and then most of the water in the area dried up. What was left behind is a bed of limestone now. Minerals have flowed over the limestone and collect to make the magical formations we see inside the cave.

The original cave was discovered by accident by a teenager named Jim White in 1898. He was riding his horse and saw many bats flying up from what appeared nowhere. He rode his horse closer and found a big hole into the ground. He left and brought a friend back with him, and they crawled through the caves with a torch and a ball of string to find their way back, according to the legend. Visitors can explore the cave through this natural opening (a 1.25 mile extremely steep trail which takes about an hour and is not recommended for those guests with heart or respiratory conditions) or take a seven hundred and fifty foot elevator to get to the bottom of the cave into the “Big Room” through the visitor’s center to walk along a 1.25 mile relatively flat trail, which takes about an hour and a half to walk. The Big Room is the only area accessible to guests in wheelchairs, and this trail can be bumpy. It is best for guests in wheelchairs to have help from another guest accordingly. Also, only guests with mobility issues are permitted to have a cane or walking stick in the caves, and the cane or walking stick must have a soft tip on the end.

Guests who enter through the visitor’s center have the option to visit a shorter .6 mile trail instead, which takes about forty-five minutes to walk. Apart from these “explore at your own pace options”, thrill seekers can go on a tour with a ranger into other, less explored, areas of the cave with reservations, as availability for these tours is very limited. Children under four are not allowed on any ranger-guided tours. Make sure you check the website ahead of time for any required footwear and other restrictions before you go. On these tours below, special equipment is normally provided by the park.

  • The Left Hand Tunnel Tour is a moderately difficult two hour candle lit tour
  • King’s Palace Tour – 1.5 hour tour requires walking up a steep hill where rangers frequently black out the lights for a few minutes in the cave
  • The Lower Cave Tour is a three hour tour, accessible by descending down sixty feet of ladders and a knotted rope that you need to hang onto as you descend backwards into the cave at some point (this tour is definitely NOT for everyone)
  • For adventure seekers, the four hour Hall of the White Giant tour might be for you if you are not afraid of confined spaces or heights, as in some parts you need to crawl through some tight openings, along with ladder climbings and free climbs as well. Minimum age for this tour is twelve, but anyone under sixteen must be accompanied by an adult.
  • The Slaughter Canyon Cave Tour is a five and a half tour into places without any electricity into narrow, uneven, and slippery areas.

In my opinion, the best time to visit Carlsbad Caverns is in August through September, where you can see baby Brazilian Free-Tailed bats fly out of and into the caves, along with adult bats, during pre-dawn or evening flights. The bats sometimes fly up to twenty-five miles an hour and are an impressive site. There is a ranger program that provides education about these fascinating creatures at Carlsbad near the “Natural Entrance” to the cave in the amphitheater. Make sure you check the website before going to Carlsbad during the Covid pandemic, however, to verify hours of operation, tour offerings, status, etc..

bats flying out of the cave at Carlsbad Caverns: source: NPS

Speaking of bats, there is currently a huge concern with the bats at Carlsbad developing a disease called “White Nose Syndrome”, which has spread from the northeastern to central United States. This disease is caused by a fungus that causes the bats to wake up more frequently during their hibernation and to use up their fat reserves too quickly for the hibernating season, causing them to die. Visitors to Carlsbad Caverns, like many other caves in the US, will be asked to scrub their shoes on a special mat if they have visited other caves recently in order to help stop the spread of this bat disease, which is not contagious to humans.

POOL OF WATER IN CARLSBAD CAVERNS, NEW MEXICO ID 23317928 © Alexey Stiop | Dreamstime
beautiful cave formations
impressive crystals
more cave formations

Although Carlsbad Caverns is currently closed because of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, it is normally open during the following hours:

  • 8:00 am to 7:00 pm daily – Summer Hours
  • 8:00 am to 5:30 pm daily – Non-summer Hours
huge stalagmite
popcorn ceiling formations

If you are looking for a good old road trip to an interesting destination once the pandemic is better and our travel restrictions have lifted, you might want to consider traveling to Carlsbad Caverns. There seems to be something for almost everyone here. “Holy stalagtites, Batman, ” said Robin!

Life is good; plan a road trip like no other in anticipation of when you can travel in the near future.

Carpe diem, friends………

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