We're not all that crazy about caves as a rule. There are caves all over the world and they are mostly just dark holes in the ground. When you take a tour the guide points out formations and tells you the fanciful names the locals have given them. I could come up with better names myself. But we are fans of our national parks. If it's a national park it's worth seeing! We have a vague memory of running out of time when we tried to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park back in our working days. It was time to go back and do it right on a day when the 56º temperatures inside the cave were far warmer than the outside.
But it was much more challenging to visit today since the elevator that take visitors down 750 feet to visit the most amazing formations broke two months ago and they can't afford to fix it. Thank you US Congress. It is the equivalent of hiking up and down the stairs of an eighty story building. The signs warned not to take the trip if you have bad knees - check - or a bad back - check - or are old and fat - check - (I made that part up). But we took it slow and easy and the views at the bottom were well worth the effort. After four days of mostly driving it felt good to tax the muscles a bit. As we started we met a number of panting people who began the trip and changed their minds. It would have been nice to take a ranger guided tour once we got to the bottom, but there isn't enough funding to hire the rangers required. Thanks US Congress once again. So we rented audio players and listened at the significant spots on the trail. We learned a lot and the listening gave us an excuse to rest. Altogether we hiked about four strenuous miles.
Although most caves are carved by rushing water, Carlsbad was eaten away by sulfuric acid. A hydrogen sulfide gas solution rose from the petroleum deposits thousands of feet below the surface and mixed with water to create the aggressive chemical that dissolved holes in the subterranean limestone. As the mountains in the area rose, the liquid drained revealing the wonder that is Carlsbad Caverns. There are certain features that most great caves have: stalactites and stalagmites, the formations that are created by mineral deposits from dripping water. Soda tubes - hollow mineral deposits. Wavy curtains of mineral deposits. Lacy formations of mineral deposits. Massive domes formed by mineral deposits. But what makes Carlsbad so special that all these formations are all present in the same area. It felt a lot like touring the palace of Versailles; we hardly knew where to look. Skillfully placed electric lighting highlights some of the most special formations. The piece d'resistance is the Big Room, which has a 255 foot ceiling. Pools of water there contain limestone masses that resemble lily pads. Volunteers and professional spelunkers are still discovering unexplored areas of the cavern complex. So far we know that the Great Room extends for thirty miles.
We did miss one important feature of the cave; the large population of bats that lives here from April to October and currently are wintering in Mexico as we should be. A special amphitheater outside the mouth of the cave allows visitors to watch at dusk as the bats swarm out of the cave. A forest fire nearby a few years ago affected the insect population of the region and this drastically decreased the number of bats that reside in the caverns. The clouds of bats lead to the discovery of the entrance to the cave. We saw amazing photographs of the early spelunkers, climbing down into the unknown blackness with lanterns on rickety ladders. At one point they lowered each other down the first 75 feet in buckets. The path we hiked today was steep, but it was well lit with railings. We are grateful to those who came before us and did the heavy lifting.