Have you ever been to Carlsbad Caverns? If not, and assuming you like exploring, then you owe it to yourself to go. Nestled in the Guadalupe mountains about 150 miles North East of El Paso, Carlsbad Caverns is worth the drive from just about anywhere.
So how were they discovered? The story goes that in 1898, a 16-year-old cowhand named Jim White [most likely] entered the caverns for the first time.
Who knows exactly who was the first to find the cave entrance, but by the time he died in 1946, Jim was known unofficially as “Mr. Carlsbad Caverns” for his “exploration, guide services, and promotion of sharing the caverns with the public”.
Visitors to the caverns have a few choices about how they’d like to enjoy their caving experience. Unlike many other caves I’ve been to, at Carlsbad the main tour is done on your own, without a guide. You can choose to ride the 750′ elevator down and back up if you don’t want to do the steep 1.25 mile walk through the natural entrance, or you can do a combo of walking in and riding the elevator out.
I highly recommend that you walk in through the natural entrance if you are at all physically able to; just be aware that the steep incline is a harsh calf workout, and they will be sore afterward!
You need to allow about an hour or so to walk in if you do the natural entrance tour; maybe add a bit more if you are taking pictures, because there will be plenty that you’ll want to stop to “oooh and ahhh” over. Once you get to the bottom of the entrance trail, allow yourself about two hours to walk the entire big room; again, you made need a little more time if you plan on taking tons of pictures (like I did).
The cool thing about the cave’s main trails is that they are all paved, and they aren’t too slick; I did the hike in a pair of flat sandals, and I was quite comfortable. Portions of the Big Room, the large natural limestone chamber which is “almost 4,000 feet (1,220 m) long, 625 feet (191 m) wide, and 255 feet (78 m) high at the highest point”, are wheelchair accessible, and those with physical limitations can enter and exit the cave comfortably via the elevators.
I can’t visit Carlsbad Caverns without thinking about how much my Uncle Tom, a Speleohistorian, loved them. This was only my second time to visit, but we are already planning our next trip back. Perhaps we’ll be able to do a guided tour on the next go-round. =)