Carlsbad Caves (Carlsbad Cavern National Park), New Mexico, US
Carlsbad Caverns Rail On the tour route
No one knows how many caves are there in the world; but definitely there are many more to be discovered than what have been listed. There is something weird about caves; they are far more than mere emptiness; they were home to our forefathers; ancient men used to express his artistic talents on its walls; that trend still follows human beings; even space age people turn artists if let free in a cave with a crayon! For a cave every kid is a Michelangelo; and its walls a Sistine Chapel! Even a child will run in to it; if a cave is spotted; darkness, echo, and bats all make a cave a miniature world of mysteries.
The American Cosquer
Jim White was an illiterate cowboy; curiosity and hard work alone were his assets; with just that and a little bit of luck; now his name remains among top names in explorers! A swarm of bats that aroused his curiosity; instead of ignoring them and tending his cattle he went in search of the source; could find only a cactus forest; neglecting their pricks he proceeded inside to see only a dark and gaping hole! The story is similar to that of 35year old Henry Cosquer a diving instructor of Marseilles who discovered the Cosquer’s Cave.
Hard work, curiosity and a bit of luck
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Millions of bats were coming out of the hole that seemed deep and dark. Jim made a born fire burning some dry twigs and threw the burning twigs in to the hole. He could sense the twigs falling to a depth of less than 200 feet; seeing the fire bats stopped coming out. After a while the flow continued; Jim thought “if millions of bats stay here; it must be substantially big; and there must be something substantial”. That young man did not know he was unfolding world’s most amazing cavern in the world.
Jim White got engaged
The Carlsbad Caverns are the largest cave-system in the world but it is the sheer variety and magnificence of the stalactite formations that make it the most unique. Jim White was engaged by a mining company that extracted the fossilized droppings of bats for its nitrate rich manure qualities. He was given permission to explore the remote corners of the cave complex during his leisure time. Jim utilized this right to bring out all the mysteries and named the strange formations in professional finesse. When the National Park was formed Jim got posting as its first Chief Ranger.
The National Park
Outside the entrance to the Carlsbad Caverns
The Carlsbad Cavern National Park is located on the western part of River Pecos beside the Guadalupe Mountains and the Chihuahua Desert. It is about 18 miles from (southwest) Carlsbad a small city in the southeastern part of New Mexico State of US. The Park contains about 109 caves including the Carlsbad Caves. The Lechuguilla Cave is one of the most amazing one with a depth of 1604 feet; it is a virtual laboratory for scientists to do research on geological as well as biological researches in an unpolluted environment. It is the fifth longest cave in the world.
Shapes weird; names strange
As per scientists this whole area was an inland sea filled with coral reefs about 25 million years back; by some geological upheavals the sea got dried up and coral reefs got covered with gypsum and salt. There after it took millions of years for the rainwater to seep in and dissolve the calcium compound in corals to shape them in such weird shapes as that resembles witch’s finger, king’s palace, hall of giants, queen’s chamber, lake of clouds and things with all strange shapes and equally strange names!
Stalactites and stalagmites
These weird shaped calcium compound formations belong to two categories, the stalactites are those tapering structures hanging like icicles from the roof of the cave; they are formed when water concentrated with minerals slowly drip from above depositing minerals from above. Stalagmites are (huge penitents) pillar like formations standing from the bottom of the cave; these are formed when water slowly dissolves the soft outer part of the calcium compounds filled in the cave. Carlsbad Caverns have both of them richly placed.
It is estimated that about a million bats live in this cave; they belong to about seven species of which the Mexican Free-tail bats are most common; these bats are migratory and live in the ‘Bats Cave’ for day time refuge, maternity and roost. There is a gigantic ‘hall’ for bats in the cavern near the natural entrance of the cave; they dangle comfortably on its ceiling; authorities take special care to see them not being disturbed by the visitors. They halt here from early spring to October and fly off to tropical Mexico during winter. Bats don’t use their eyesight much as they depend on their sonar guidance for travel and catching prey.
Rooms and their names
The Witch’s Finger in Carlsbad Caverns
The Hall of the Giants
This is the biggest chamber in the whole Carlsbad cavern system with an area of 357,469 sq feet. The conical rocks that arise from the floor and the pricks like millions of formation directed downwards give an eerie look to this gigantic chamber.
Left hand tunnel is a long and straight passage that leads to the Lake of Clouds; it may seem hard to believe that this was spontaneously. Floor of the passage is intermitted with numerous fissures; no one knows what is beneath these fissures.
Lake of the Clouds
It is the lowest point of the cave (among the so far discovered caverns) and it has a substantially large lake with round cloud shaped rocks. It is located in a side passage from the left hand tunnel.
Balloon Ballroom is small in width and located in the ceiling of the main entrance; it is so named as it was first accessed tying the end of a rope with some balloons and floating it over to the passage.
Bat Cave is exclusively reserved for the original inhabitants of the cave-the bats. It has no adornment with stalactites and bats love the engulfing darkness, they breed and rear the young in this hall.
Bell Cord Room has a very special formation a cord like stalactite formation that come down from a hole in the ceiling resembling a church bell cord coming from a church spire.
Bifrost Room is a very beautiful name reminding the Norse Myth of the world above the sky that can be accessed only by climbing along a rainbow! In fact there are rainbow like color formation by traces of oxides present in the white calcium background.
Flowstone in carlsbad caverns, a form of travertine
Witch’s Finger is perhaps the most amazing growth of Stalagmite which less than two feet in diameter and grows up like a slender finger to about 20 feet in height.
Green Lake Room
Located at the uppermost floor of the ‘Scenic Room’; it has got a green colored pool at its corner thereby giving the chamber this name. It has got some significance; when the world was quivering under the threat of imminent nuclear attack; security agencies were in search of a protected space to escape the atom bomb. They reached the Green Lake Cave and observed the lake waters while atomic explosion was done at a distant place. The lake waters did not produce any ripples thereby assuring them of a safe place!
A World Heritage Site
Rock of Ages in the Big Room, photo by Ansel Adams
In 1930 US President Herbert Hoover declared Carlsbad caves and numerous Permian Age fossil- reefs located in the surrounding area as The Carlsbad Cavern National Park. UNESCO declared the park as a World Heritage Sit in December 6, 1995. This park spreads in to an area of 46766 acres around the cave. At present the park is a hot spot for tourists; more than 50,000 people visit this place every year; the park is open 24 hours all round the year except in the Christmas day. Two third of the park area is left as ‘wilderness area’ as a measure of preservation of the ecosystem.