Cave or Cavern?
Most of you have probably visited a cave at least once in your life and I have been in quite a few over the years. As a child, I remember reading about this cave system in our World Book Encyclopedia and wondering about why it was called a cavern and not just a cave. Carlsbad Cavern is huge! Until you walk the nearly two miles and drop 750 down to the rest area and lunch room it’s really hard to imagine a cave of this size.
The story of Carlsbad Cavern began some 250 million years ago with the creation of a 400 mile-long reef in an inland sea. This horseshoe-shape reef formed from the remains of sponges, algae, and seashells. Eventually the sea evaporated and left a deposit of gypsum and other salts. A few million years ago, uplift and erosion became what is now the Guadalupe Mountains. At the same time water migrating downward dissolved and eroded away the many tubes and passages and in time, drop by drop creating the many formations which decorate the cave. Here is the web page for this National Park: http://www.nps.gov/cave/index.htm
My son and his wife, Shawn and Brittany Ernst, had recently moved to New Mexico so we decided to meet up in Carlsbad and go see this natural wonder. We stayed in Carlsbad which is about 45 minutes from the Caverns. We choose to say in the recently Trinity Hotel, which is a recently restored bank building dating 1892.
On Tuesday, January 11, 2011 we met up for breakfast and then drove out to the Caverns. This area had a cold front move in overnight and the temperatures that day ranged from the mid teen to a high of 38 for the day. Brrr… The upside was that the Caverns stays about 65 degrees year round, so once inside it would be really pleasant.
The visitor center is perched on a ridge in the northeasterly portion of the Guadalupe Mountains. It has a very spacious view of the mountains and the valley to the south. This is a very nice facility with interpretive exhibits, a gift shop and even a gallery with some original Ansell Adam’s photos. The rangers told us a bit about the Caverns and our tour options and we opted to take a guided tour through the Kings Room after doing a self-guided walk down to the Rest Area and Lunch room.
It’s about a quarter mile walk down into a ravine, from the parking area and Visitor Center to the mouth of the cave. Another Ranger met us near the entrance and gave us a short briefing of the rules and what to expect. We were told it was almost two miles and 750 feet lower to the Rest Area and it could easily take an hour or two. So off we went! The switch-back path led us down, down into the mouth of the cave.
At this point it didn’t really seem so large as we were entering a moderate size tube that led into the larger sections of the cave. The trail is all paved with hand rails and frequent lighted interpretive signs. The cave it’s self is well lighted so it was easy to see and enjoy all the formations along the way.
I soon discovered that my little on-board flash wasn’t near enough to have much effect so I relied on using a tripod and taking time-exposures. In places there is colored lighting to enhance the beauty of the formations but later, when looking at the pictures I discovered that all the light gave the photos a rather weird color and every shot had to be color corrected to somewhat resemble what we actually saw. I’ll have to say that these photos don’t come close to capturing the beauty that you see, nor the size and proportion of the Caverns. Here are a few shots of some of the things we saw as we walked down to the Rest Area:
We arrived at the Rest area about 45 minute before our guided tour of the Kings Room was to begin, so we did a short walk down to the Big Room loop and the lower portion of the Cave. As there was so much to see, we didn’t get far before it was time to go back and meet up with our tour-guide.
The tour of the Kings Room was about another mile but it took about an hour and a half as the guide did a wonderful job of explaining every detail of the cave. At one point she turned off the lights so we could experience the true blackness of the cave. Here are a few shots from the tour:
The time was passing quickly and by the time we got back there was just enough time left to finish the walk through the Big Room and lower section of the cave. As we were to be at the elevators by 4:00 pm we didn’t stop as much and made the 1-1/2 – 2-mile walk in about an hour. Here are a few shots from this section of the cave:
By now we had walked around 5 miles and were pretty happy with the idea that there were elevators to take us the 750 back up to the Visitors Center. Even though the main elevators were down for repairs, there were two smaller elevators in service to whisk us back up.
Wow, what a wonderful day and fascinating journey we had made. We went back into Carlsbad and had dinner at the Trinity Hotel and talked about all the wonders of the day. The next day, on our way back to Arizona, I stopped off at the Guadalupe Mountains National Park and took a few pictures of some of the more rugged portions of these mountains. The highest mountain here, Guadalupe Peak, is the highest point in Texas at 8717 feet above sea level. This is the primo hiking place in Texas and it was easy to see why. I’d love to go back some time and ramble around those hills a bit. Here is the parks webpage: http://www.nps.gov/gumo/index.htm
Well it was another great adventure and I hope you get to visit Carlsbad yourself someday. I think you would find the awe and beauty I saw and would be something you would always remember.
Keep looking for the awe and beauty in your world.