Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located in the Guadalupe Mountains of southeastern New Mexico. The cave had been known to the Mescalero Apaches for many, many years before 16 year old Jim White stumbled on it and began exploring in 1898. He named many of the features in the cave and was an advocate for its protection all his life. President Calvin Coolidge signed a proclamation on Oct 25, 1923 creating Carlsbad Cavern National Monument. Additional land was reserved for the park over the years, and on May 14, 1930 congress passed legislation creating Carlsbad Caverns National Park. I was a kid the first time I went to Carlsbad Caverns. I returned in 1979 and again 40 years later in 2019.

Park sign

Carlsbad Cavern Hwy (NM SR 7)

Barbary Sheep
(Ammotragus lervia)

Barbary Sheep
(Ammotragus lervia)

Barbary Sheep
(Ammotragus lervia)

Visitor Center

Visitor Center

Lobby sclupture

Information desk

Visitor center displays


Gift shop
Carlsbad Caverns Trading Company

Park buildings (1979)

Park buildings (2019)

Looking ~ southeast into Texas (1979)

Looking ~ southeast into Texas (2019)


Before starting our cave tours, a word about cave formations. Spleothems are cave formations resulting from the deposition of minerals that crystallize out of water percolating into the cave. Most of us are familiar with stalactites that hang like icicles from the cave ceiling and stalagmites that grow up from the cave floor. A column is formed when a stalactite and stalagmite join. A straw or soda straw is a really thin, usually hollow, stalactite. Cave popcorn are nodules that form on cave surfaces, and flowstone forms when minerals are deposited by water flowing over cave walls or floors. Draperies are curtain-like spleothems formed when water runs down a slanted surface. Often they are colored by different minerals, and sometimes look like bacon. All of these common spleothems are found in Carlsbad Cavern along with some more unusual ones.

Natural Entrance Route

There are two self-guided trails and one ranger guided tour (King's Palace Tour) in the cavern. I did the self-guided trails. The Natural Entrance route is described in this section and the Big Room route in the next section. As you would guess, the Natural Entrance route starts at the natural opening to the cave. After a brief ranger orientation you pass the bat viewing amphitheater and descend to the mouth of the cave via a series of sharp switchbacks. The trail descends 750 feet over 1.25 miles and ends near the underground cafeteria, restrooms, and elevators. The elevators take you right up to the Visitor Center, which is a good thing because I didn't relish the idea of climbing 750 feet back out of the cave.

Amphitheater and cave entrance

Switchbacks leading into the cave

Soda straws
(really skinny stalactites)



Could be Devils Spring

Stalactites and draperies (right)

Whale's Mouth descriptive sign

Whales's Mouth (1979)

Whale's Mouth (2019)

Cave popcorn



Iceberg Rock descriptive sign

Iceberg Rock

Nice column

Boneyard descriptive sign


Popcorn covering stalactites? draperies?

Underground cafeteria and gift shop

Big Room Route

The Big Room trail is a one-way, 1.25 mile loop trail that begins and ends near the cafeteria and elevators. The trail is relatively flat and easy with rest stops along the way. Lot of interesting spleothems along this route. A ranger told me that only about 5% of the cave is active, ie., still growing spleothems. I have a feeling most of that 5% is in the Big Room.

Big Room descriptive sign

On the trail

Tiered stalagmites

Sort of a drapery

Popcorn and flowstone

Lions Tail descriptive sign

Lions Tail

Hall of Giants descriptive sign

Hall of Giants

Hall of Giants

Fairyland descriptive sign

Popcorn covered stalagmites


Lots going on here

Temple of the Sun descriptive sign

Temple of the Sun

Humongous stalagmites

Historic Explorations descriptive sign

1924 ladder


Gypsum descriptive sign

Gypsum wall

Crystal Spring Dome descriptive sign

Crystal Spring Dome

Rock of Ages

Painted Grotto descriptive sign

Painted Grotto

Painted Grotto

Chinese Theater descriptive sign

Chinese Theater

Walnut Canyon Desert Drive Loop

Once you're through playing troglodyte and would like some fresh air and sunshine you might try Walnut Canyon Desert Drive. The drive is a 9.5 mile loop on a semi-maintained gravel road. I had no problem in my F-150 but do not recommend it for any low riders out there. I visited last in April 2019, and there were lots of wildflowers in bloom. I'm not much good at identifying flowers, but I gave it my best shot in this section.

Walnut Canyon Desert Drive

Mule deer
(Odocoileus hemionus)

Mule deer
(Odocoileus hemionus)

Could be Torrey's Yucca

Indian Paintbrush
(This one I know)

Threadleaf Phlox
(Phlox mesoleuca)

Could be California Tickseed


Teeny yellow flowers

Early Shaggytuft?
(Stenandrium barbatum)?

No clue

Could be Hartweg's Sundrops
(the yellow ones)

Man made, but what?

Bottom of Walnut Canyon

Interesting cairn

Bonus - White's City

Whites City is a collection of businesses located just outside the entrance to Carlsbad Caverns National Park that cater exclusively to park visitors. There is a gas station, restaurant, small RV park, and gift shop. The U.S. government classifies White's City as a "census designated place", and it had a population of 7 as of the 2010 census. But it does have its own post office with a zip code of 88268.

Business district

Cactus Cafe and Restaurant

Cactus Cafe

Lota Bull

Bison contemplating a lamppost

Pueblo or Castle?

Cell phones welcome

Alien pair

White's City fuel


Funky bear

Background information obtained from the National Park Service and Wikipedia.
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