Carlsbad Caverns National Park has been on our bucket list right from the beginning of our RV adventure. We wanted to hit it on our first loop West, but it was just too far out of our way. So, we routed specifically there as we head out West for the second time.
Carlsbad Caverns did not disappoint. We visited Mammoth Cave National Park last year, and loved it. But, Carlsbad was even more impressive. Mammoth Cave is a huge interconnected network of enormous caverns, with a limited area of cave formations. Carlsbad offers the largest underground chamber in North America, and it is literally covered with formations — stalactites, stalagmites, columns, draperies, soda straws, popcorn, etc.
In this COVID time, there were no guided ranger tours offered, but we were able to do a self-guided tour. We waited a bit at the entrance — groups were spaced to allow for better social distancing. After hearing the customary ranger talk (no touching the formations, etc), we walked down and down through a dozen switchbacks into the gaping mouth of the natural cave entrance.
The paved path led us steadily downward as the light from the entrance slowly dwindled to blackness. Our eyes soon adjusted to the dim artificial lighting. After about a mile or so of walking (mostly down), we entered the famed Big Room. Photos really cannot do justice to the scale and beauty of the formations therein. The path snaked around the perimeter of the enormous chamber as we walked, agape. Our minds constructed fairy villages, huge chandeliers, and frozen waterfalls from the crystal-rock. We saw what appeared to be bottomless pits, one with an old abandoned ladder snaking down it. No, thank you! I wouldn’t make a good spelunker, the dark crevices are way too creepy!
We estimated that we walked over 3 miles in the cavern. Finally, the one-way path led us to the elevator that would take us back up to the Visitor’s center at the surface. We had descended 750 feet from the surface!
In non-COVID times, the elevator area also hosted a gift shop and snack bar. All closed. It would have been really cool to hang out down there, while enjoying lunch. But, back up we went, to the surface and reality. We didn’t hike here, but we did do the Walnut Canyon Desert drive. The one-way, single lane gravel drive was a bit rough in spots, but very scenic. I’m just sorry that we couldn’t take a ranger led tour. Our Mammoth Cave experience was greatly enriched by our ranger tours and I’m sure it would have been the same here. Perhaps on a future visit …..
So, Carlsbad Caverns has now made it to my (personal, biased) list of top 5 favorite National Parks. (OK, I know you’ll ask. In no particular order: Great Smokies NP, Glacier NP, Yellowstone NP, Sequoia NP, and now Carlsbad Caverns NP)
I’m so glad we finally got here.