Sunday, February 27, 2011

Carlsbad Caverns are BAD!

Cool formation!
National park photo
When you say something is "bad", hopefully it's still slang for TERRIFIC! Because that's what the caverns were...unbelievably, totally amazing..the most incredible thing we have ever seen! According to Ranger Jeremy, a funny, wonderfully informative tour guide who led us through King's Palace today on an hour and a half tour, it's the 8th wonder of the world. And we could see why...These caverns were formed when sulphuric acid dissolved the limestone "shelves" or reefs left from an inland sea 400 miles long from prehistoric times. It opened up fractures and faults as the mountains were being pushed upward. Creation of each type of formation happened by drips and drops. Billions and billions of drops later, you have thousands of different formations in the caves. Remember stalagmites and stalactites from your school days? I think our guide called them "sticky-uppies" and "droppy-downies". (Stalactites-"droppy-downies"- hang tight to the top of the ceiling, by the way.)
Peering through spaces in the rock
Eldy walking the Big Room self-guided tour
My photo of the" doll's theater"
If I remember some of my facts right, the first main cavern area, called the Big Room, was the size of 14 football fields, or was it 14 acres? You get the idea...It was incredibly HUGE.  We learned that "soda straws" are very thin stalactites hanging from the ceiling. "Draperies" hang where water ran down a slanted ceiling. There's even "popcorn"  formations..small, delicate needle shaped mineral crystals that look just like popcorn. The formations in the different parts or "rooms" of the caverns have names and we learned lots about them from our very informative ranger guide, Jeremy. Ranger Jeremy really knew his stuff. We found out the history of the caves, how they were discovered, how the formations came to be, and lots more cool stuff! He led us on the King's Palace tour, (4.00 a person with a senior pass), and  we went an additional 100+ feet deeper into the cave on this particular tour. I got a little claustrophobic as we descended down, down, down into the depths of the cave, but I fought the urge to leave the tour and head for the elevator up. I'm glad I stayed. I immersed myself into the tour information being given and my panicky feeling passed.

This was a tour that was entirely and easily climbed, following a guard rail path the entire time. There are other tours where you need kneepads, flashlight, and no fear of darkness to clamber around rocks, crawl through crevices, etc. I did have to ask before the tour started if there had ever been any seismic activity in the caverns (there hasn't been), and has anybody ever been left behind at night, when they turn out the lights? Yes, there being mischievious. (They were fined). They do a "sweep" after the last tour has come up in the elevator. Wait a minute, one more question...has anything ever broken off while people are touring the caves? As in fallen off and hurt someone? No, they replied, not ever in 100 years. The only breaking of anything has been the dumb people who broke off a piece of formation for a souvenir. I liked the way Jeremy explained the ignorance of people vandalizing OUR national parks and how it affects all of us. Touching the formations damages them, transferring oils to the surface and discoloring the rock. He told us that the King's Palace used to be a self-guided tour, but that in three years' time, 10,000 pieces had been broken off the formations from people taking "souvenirs" and so they made it a ranger guided tour. How sad is that!?  He definitely had the proper reverence for the beauty of this place and tried to transmit his feelings to the public. We were very impressed with him.
Size relativity

Then, towards the end of the tour, Jeremy decided to show us how dark a cave really is. He turned off the lights for what seemed an eternity but was really only about three minutes. He then proceeded to talk about insects in the caverns. Yes, there are spiders, and "they are about THIS big," demonstrating their size with his fingers, which of course nobody could see, and there are crickets "which are about THIS big" demonstrating again, and we still were in the this time, I was clutching Eldy's arm pretty tightly. I think I even said a couple of times, "YOU CAN TURN THE LIGHTS ON ANY TIME NOW"...each time a little more loudly, and finally, on  came the lights. WHEW! (I wasn't the only one clutching the arm of my nearest and dearest partner!) Jeremy also told us about how they have found evidence of caffeine, antifreeze, and oil in the cave waters down 800 feet below the did it get there? From the surface parking lot, one drop at a time, percolating through the rock. Three to six months for a drop to make it down below the surface, into the rocks, dripping into the pools below the earth. They have since resurfaced the parking lot with a special filtering surface to keep contaminants from leaking into the natural cave system. Makes you think twice about pouring something out onto the ground, doesn't it?  It sure did for us!
"Totem pole"-national park photo

The lighting throughout the entire cave system was one of the coolest things about the cave..the wiring is hidden, each major formation is spectacularly lighted with angled views of the spectacular formations, you don't really see the lights themselves, it's very subtle how they are's dim but with every corner you round, another formation is highlighted. The lighting naturally makes you feel like you are in God's cathedral, and nobody talks above a whisper while moving through the caves unless you are a person who hasn't a clue and doesn't realize your voice carries a 1/4 of a mile in normal tones. There are audio tours for 3.00 where you can hear information if you don't want to take a ranger guided tour.

The photos today are about half mine, and half national park royalty free photos. It's hard to get a really good photo showing the grandeur of the caverns. It was truly awe-inspiring! Sorry for the long blog today, but we want to remember this day, it was very special!  (PS. Carlsbad Caverns National Park entrance fee is FREE to seniors with the Golden Age Pass.)


  1. Next time some cave tour guide turns out the lights, shout out ,"someone just grabbed my boob!" at the top if your lungs. First of all, the lights will come back on lickety split, and second of all, nobody would know who the prude was who shouted it ;)

  2. The photos look great! We will be there in Mid May and hope the bats are there for their show :)