Deep beneath the Chihuahuan Desert in Southern New Mexico lies a labyrinth of more than 300 limestone caves, carved over 250 million years ago.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park offers guided and self-guided tours of several of these amazing caves. The 8.2-acre Big Room is the most popular and accessible section, and one of the most impressive. Those who can manage the rather steep trail can explore the Natural Entrance. The Hall of the White Giant and Spider Cave are best left to those with no fear of tight spaces. Audio guides are available at the visitor center.
The park includes Rattlesnake Springs Historic District, which has been a designated an Important Bird Area (IBA) because of more than 300 species that congregate here. The Natural Entrance is an IBA, as well, because of its breeding colony of cave swallows.
Thanks to careful conservation efforts and the reintroduction of native species, more than 60 different types of animals now inhabit Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Look for pronghorn, Rocky Mountain elk, and mule deer. Some of the rarer species – cougar, spotted skunk, and black bear among them – are best seen from a distance.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park offers backcountry camping, hiking, and ranger-led programs. The visitor center houses geologic and cultural artifacts from the region.
If You Go
At sunset in summer, particularly July and August, more than 400,000 Mexican free-tail bats emerge from Carlsbad Cavern. A ranger talk precedes the nightly show. Early risers can witness the bats’ high-speed, acrobatic return to the cave just before sunrise.
Did You Know
The Carlsbad Caverns were formed by an ancient ocean. Fossils of plants and animals can still be found embedded in the limestone.