Eselpee Goes to Carlsbad Caverns

Eselpee Goes to Carlsbad Caverns

There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears, and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call … The Twilight Zone (Rod Serling).

Or…”Grand Canyon with a roof on it (Will Rogers)”

It was a great time to go to the Caverns. The elevators are currently broken, and while this means that people with extenuating circumstances cannot see the Caverns, it keeps the average tourist at bay as well. So it was not crowded, and those that did visit were dedicated.

EntranceCave entrance close

I did my best to take photos, but the one in the header was taken by “Noname”, who was apparently allowed to bring backlighting. Ansel Adams’, who described his experience of Carlsbad as

“something that should not exist in relation to human beings. Something that is as remote as the galaxy, incomprehensible as a nightmare, and beautiful in spite of everything.”

was also allowed backlighting for his photography. It is difficult to do it justice otherwise. The one below is mine (in case you had confused my talent with Ansel’s).

Totem pole with soda straws forming on ceilingunnamed

The trip broke my personal walking record since receiving my flex bit (thank you, Carrie!!) since discovering my cardiac issue. The elevation is a steep 750 feet, so it was an impressive 15,977 steps – a precipitous 7 miles.

Cave entrance path
A steep 7 miles

I didn’t notice this on my way down, but it was lovely when I first felt the air move on my way up, which happened at about 12,000 steps.

way out
The way out – back side of entrance

The Big Room (1.25-mile circumference) is open to visitors, but so far, 85 caves with a total of over 136 miles have been discovered. Lechuguilla was found in 1986, but the most recent is Halloween Hall, named for the date of its discovery on October 31, 2013. The Big Room offers views of massive numbers of a variety of speleothem named for the item they resemble: soda straw (hollow like a drinking straw, drapery, cave pearls, helectites (curly soda staws), flowstone, shelfstone, popcorn, and totem poles. The rooms that are open to the public have speleothem coated in dust. It is estimated that the 4000,000 to 700,000 visitors each year leave behind 10 pounds of lint (each year). Access to nonpublic caverns is restricted and researchers wear protective, lint-free clothing. Nonetheless, they look like snowscapes.

popcorn or pearls
Popcorn seleotherm

In addition to the lint, inside the public area is a lunch area and restrooms as well as nineteen miles of concealed wires to light the cavern, trails, and the old excavating shafts to remove guano*. Directly above Carlsbad are a visitor center, parking lots to handle large crowds of visitors, a maintenance yard with its associated gas tanks and paved parking areas for trucks and other large equipment, and a housing area with sewer lines, propane lines, and garages – all of which leak into the porous caverns. (* guano was used as fertilizer primarily by orange growers. In about 20 years of operation, over 100,000 tons of guano was taken from Carlsbad Cavern).

The work in the cave and building numerous structures over the cave has been damaging to these beautiful caverns. I’d love to don some lint-free protective gear and see the pristine parts. The photos of Lechuguilla show how beautiful and delicate Carlsbad Caverns once were.

Photo by Dave Bunnell of the Chandelier Ballroom in Lechuguilla Cave. These are the largest known gypsum stalactites in the world. Each is tipped with a spray of gypsum crystals.

Click here for even more amazing photos

The Guadeloupe Mountains are positioned at the intersection of the southern Rocky Mountain, northern Chihuahuan Desert, and southwestern Great Plains biogeographic provinces, giving the area a grand diversity of flora and fauna. The center stage goes to the park’s bats. 17 different bat species live in the caves. The large colony of Brazilian (or Mexican) free-tail bats wows visitors every evening from spring through fall with its spectacular out & inflights, which I hope to attend at least once before my time here is completed.

The Carlsbad Cavern Natural Entrance is also an Audubon IBA because of the large colony of cave swallows that resides and breeds there in the summer. They chatted to each other all though my visit. The birds that have been observed in the park lists 357 species.

Carlsbad is home to are three species of cave crickets as well as isopods, troglophilic beetles, millipedes, centipedes, various spiders, and primitive creatures related to bristletails and silverfish.

So far, more than 1,200 strains of microbes, including lithographic* bacteria have been isolated. Studying these life forms widens perspectives for identifying life outside of Earth. (*derive metabolic energy from sulfur, manganese, and iron from pools, soils, corrosive residues, and sulfur deposits)

Mother Nature carved Carlsbad Caverns below the Guadalupe Mountains. They are an exposed part of a 400-mile horse-shoe shaped reef of the Permian sea that covered this region 250 million years ago. The reef is made of the remains of sponges, algae, and seashells and from calcite. Eventually the sea was displaced and dried up. The reef subsided and a thick blanket of sediments and mineral salts buried it. The reef was entombed until just a few million years ago when earthquakes strong enough to have tectonic effect exposed the fossil reef as the newly emerged Mountains.

The cavern was formed, like the Grand Canyon, drop by drop more about 500,000 years ago. Rainwater mixed with salty residue formed acids that dissolved limestone to leave massive caverns. The limestone rich droplets were exposed to carbon dioxide to create calcite. In the cave, the carbon dioxide was released into the air leaving behind the crystal of calcite it had carried there. A googolplex of drops later, the speleothem in the linked photos formed. Carlsbad contains some geologically unique and rare cave formations. This area contains one of the best-preserved, exposed Permian Age fossil reefs in the world. It is the second deepest cave in the continental USA (1604ft), exceeded by Tears of the Turtle Cave in Montana (1629ft) with the deepest US in Hawaii (3614ft)


James Larkin White, one of the first to extensively explore the cave, used this guano bucket to transport hundreds of tourists into and out of the cave.

Carlsbad Caverns was first discovered by endogenous Americans nearly 14,000 years ago. It was known by the Spanish in the 1500s. Anglos found it, as probably those before them, by the 500,000 bats that surge in and out before sunrise and after sunset, and began to exploit it commercially. It was established as a national monument by the first US president from Vermont, Calvin Coolidge. A quick history can be read at