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Roger Weller, geology instructor
by Timothy Lee
Carlsbad Cavern National Park
Basic Information & Description
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located in the Guadalupe Mountains along the Texas/New Mexico border. The national park consists of 46,766 acres of land and includes a large cave chamber known as The Big Room, that is made up of a natural limestone chamber that is almost 4,000 feet long, 626 feet wide, and 255 feet high at its highest point. These impressive numbers consider the chamber to be the fifth largest in North America and the twenty-eighth largest in the world.
The Big Room consists of stalactites, which are types of formations that hang from the ceiling of the cave. Stalagmites, which are rock formations that occurs from the floor due to the accumulation of material deposited on the floor from ceiling drippings. Columns, which are the result of a Stalagmite and stalactite meeting together.
Soda straws, which are the formations of a hollow mineral cylindrical tube that grow where water leaches slowly through cracks in rock. A Soda Straw can eventually form into a stalactite. Draperies are thin, wavy sheets of calcite hanging downward. Helictites, which are made up of needle-form calcite and aragonite and popcorn which are clusters of nodules that grow on bedrock or the sides of other speleothems and each individual nodule can range from 5-20 mm.
Carlsbad Cavern National Park has two historic districts on the National Register of Historic Places, The Cavern Historic District and the Rattlesnake Springs Historic District and the park museum includes the park archives that contains approximately one million cultural resource artifacts that are being preserved and protected. Human activities such as prehistoric and historic American Indian occupations, European exploration and settlement, industrial exploitation, commercial and cavern accessibility development and tourism have left reminders of their presence and have contributed to the rich and diverse history of the area.
To enter The Big Room there is two options. A person may use an elevator that starts from inside the visitor center and descends 754 feet in a little over a minute to reach their destination. Or a person may choose to travel the same distance by foot using a trail system that descends downwards to the Big Room. If visitors plan on entering by foot, make a brief walk in the desert that eventually brings them to a huge opening in the plateau. They are then greeted by a zigzag pattern trail going downwards and may have an encounter with a colony of Mexican free-tail bats. The Big Room itself consists of a 1.25 mile circular path that brings the visitors to one side of the chambers and back along the other.
Upon entering or exiting the Big Room, there consists of smaller scenic side-caves that are just as amazing as the Big Room itself. There are four separate chambers that are accessible from the cave near the elevator. These chambers are known as Kings Palace.
This is the deepest part of the cavern that is currently opened to the public. The Left Hand Tunnel is a lantern-lit passageway featuring fossils, cave pools and delicate speleotherms. The Lower Cave branches off the Big Room and on a vast lower level, it is considered to have just as amazing sites as the Big Room. And The Hall of the White Giant is a more remote section of the cavern that contains a huge white stalagmite. This site however requires an additional $20 person.
Things to Know & Bring
Prior to planning your trip to Carlsbad Cavern in New Mexico, visitors are required to purchase an entrance ticket. Adults over the age of 16 are required to pay $15 while children 15 and under are free. Although the National Park is located in the Chihuahuan Deseret in southeast New Mexico and temperatures can get up to in the low 100s, it is recommended that visitors bring a light jacket or sweater as the year-round temperatures in the cave is 56 degrees Fahrenheit. Flash photography in the cave is permitted as well as canes and walking sticks. However baby strollers are not permitted in the cave. During the winter (Labor Day to the day before Memorial Day) the last chance for a walk-in entry to the cave is 2:30 PM and the last elevator entry to the cave is 3:30 PM. During the summer (Memorial Day to the day before Labor Day) the last walk-in entry to the cave is 3:30 PM and the last elevator entry to the cave is 5 PM. The Visitor Center during the winter is opened every day from 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM and during the summer they are opened every day from 8:00 AM – 7:00 PM. The cave is opens 30 minutes after the visitor center and closes 30 minutes before the visitor center.
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