The main attraction, of course is the cave. Its one of the deepest in the US with one of the largest underground chambers. Its mostly limestone so it does not have the extremely colorful displays of some caves
You've come all this way to see the Caverns, so don't cheat yourself out of the complete tour. Don't take the elevator down unless you really have to. Free for young children and Golden Pass holders. If you're not taking the guided tour, I suggest paying a mere $3 for the audio machine and take the self guided tour, either way, you will walk out with tons of information on the caverns. There is a certain awe about being in such a huge underground hole, and with such rewards as thousands of stalagmite, stalactite and helictite formations.
One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to meet the locals. I talked to several rangers and volunteers. One did not want his picture taken and several others did not want their photos posted here. This is Amy, she worked the reservation desk for the ranger-led tours.
These formations in the “Hall of Giants” began as small deposits on the cavern floor. After thousands and thousands of years worth of calcite rich water dripped onto them, they became these tall, wide stalagmites. The “Giant Dome” has grown so tall that it has merged with the ceiling becoming a column.
In my opinion, the main attraction to Carlsbad Caverns is the “Big Room”. The Big Room covers 8.2 acres or 600,000 square feet (the same as 14 football fields). This is the largest known limestone chamber in the Western Hemisphere, and is extremely impressive. You have to see it to get the full impression.
At the end of the Natural Entrance Trail you will encounter a sign for continuing on to the “Big Room Trail” or taking a rest before continuing. There are restrooms and food and water at the rest stop. You are not allowed to take any food or drinks on the trails except plain water.
The Devil’s Spring is not actually a spring. It is not fed by a spring or a stream but is formed by water dripping into a limestone cavity. Because there is no flowing water the spring cannot rid itself of contaminants so please do not throw anything into the water.
This is the part of the cavern called “The Twilight Zone”. Here light begins to give way to darkness. Snakes, mice, raccoons and ringtails seek shelter here. The only plant life is a green algae that grows on the rocks.
Carlsbad Caverns is the summer home of hundreds of thousands of bats. Seven types of bats call this cavern home; but the most prevalent is the Mexican Free-tailed Bat. The bats stay here from early spring until October or November. Each night while the bats are here they fly out of the cavern to search for moths and other flying insects to eat in the Pecos and Black River Valleys. The exit of these hundreds of thousands of bats takes anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours and is a spectacular sight.
This stalagmite was removed from the cavern and placed here so that people who cannot resist touching a formation can touch this one and leave the ones inside the cavern alone. This is the only formation you are allowed to touch.
There are two ways to access the Big Room at Carlsbad Caverns. You can go down in an elevator or you can choose the Natural Entrance and walk down the Natural Entrance Trail. I chose the latter. The Natural Entrance Trail is one mile long and follows the traditional explorers’ route. It drops 750 feet via a series of switchbacks and is not recommended for people with health conditions or knee or back problems. The path is well lit and paved; but can be slippery when wet. Sturdy shoes with rubber soles are recommended. As you begin the path to the Natural Entrance you will be stopped by a ranger to get a briefing on the do’s and don’ts of the tour.
The last pullout I explored was the Big Hill Seep. Seeps are caused when water seeping into the ground reach a hard flat layer of rock it cannot penetrate. The water then flows along the rock until it exits to the outside. These seeps provide vital water to plants and animals.
There is a pullout with a short, easy paved trail leading to a view of Walnut Canyon. Although the trail is paved it is probably too skinny for wheelchairs. You can also drive through Walnut Canyon on a gravel one-way loop road. The road is okay for passenger cars but is narrow and has sharp curves so trailers and motor homes are not recommended for this route.
Access to the park is made by an entrance road leading off US Highway 62/180. There are a few pullouts along the route that may be of interest to you. I would recommend skipping them though if you are short of time and save the time for the caverns. One of the pullouts is the Desert Garden. This shows the plants typical for this part of the Chihuahua Desert.
Your tour will start with the Visitors Center where you will pay the entrance fee, pay the fees for any cave tours you are taking, and you can gather maps brochures and other information to make your visit more enjoyable. A gift shop. Bookstore and a restaurant are also available. There are over 100 caves in the area but only 11 are open to the public. There are several tours you can take inside Carlsbad Caverns: Ranging from the two free self-guided tours (The Natural Entrance Trail and the Big Room Trail); to the popular ranger-led Kings Palace Tour; to strenuous wild caving tours for experienced cavers. Prices, and days/times of availability vary so check the website for more information. Reservations are highly recommended.
The visitor's center was undergoing renovations when I visited in February 2010.