Ansel Adams described Carlsbad Caverns as “…something that should not exist in relation to human beings. Something that is as remote as the galaxy, incomprehensible as a nightmare, and beautiful in spite of everything.”
We took a family vacation to Carlsbad, New Mexico, in 2004, which naturally included a visit to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. It’s a different experience with kids as they are likely to set the pace and the interest level. The caves are appropriate for most ages and it’s always fun to see the world through a child’s eye.
Flash forward ten years and we decided to take a second look sans the boys. With Tex safely parked at the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, we headed out for the 40-mile or so road trip to the caverns. At the visitor center we took our time with all of the displays and we watched the park film.
There are a number of tours available, both guided and self-guided, with costs associated with each. We opted to take the Natural Entrance route and explore the caves on our own just as we did on our first visit.
Since we have the Annual Park Pass we headed straight down to the cave entrance where were turned away because we didn’t have a “ticket”. Back up the hill we went to get a 1”x 2” receipt. Presumably that’s how the park keeps track of the number of visitors but it was a minor annoyance. Signage at the visitor center at the top could have avoided it altogether we thought.
The natural entrance hike is one mile through paved, but sometimes wet pavement. The descent is steady and not well lit in places so you might want to take a small flashlight along. The cave temperature varies little from the annual 56 degrees average and we were glad to have a light jacket. At the end of the hike you arrive at the rest area where there are bathrooms, a snack bar and the elevators if you wish to ride back up to the top.
The Big Room hike starts here and is another mile in length. Floor space in the Big Room covers an area comparable to fourteen football fields. That’s a Big Room! You can take the elevator down and start here if you don’t want to deal with the descent or are pressed for time.
The scenery in the Big Room (the largest known natural limestone chamber in the Western Hemisphere) is much superior to the Natural Entrance hike but we would recommend starting at the natural entrance anyway for the full effect. Assuming you are in decent physical condition.
The caves are a great way to spend a morning, or the day, and we enjoyed both of our visits to Carlsbad Caverns.
Up Next: Big Bend National Park