carlsbad caverns national park

We have worked our way up in size and popularity of caves, from Linville Caverns, NC –> Luray Caverns, VA –> Mammoth Cave, KY –> now, Carlsbad Caverns, NM. Carlsbad is such a big attraction that we had to settle on an exact date and time for our visit months in advance, in order to get reservations for a self-guided cavern tour.

On December 28 at 8.30am, we arrived to pick up our tickets and make the biggest decision of our entire day: whether to take the elevator down or hike in through the cave’s natural entrance. The hike adds an extra mile to what is already a decent walk, but it’s (obviously) a lot more scenic than staring at the inside of an elevator. I’m sure it goes without saying what we chose.

The self-guided tour is about 2.5 miles of winding back and forth on a dark narrow sidewalk, deeper and deeper into the heart of the earth. For a four-year-old like Eva, the first mile was fascinating; the second mile monotonous. For the rest of us, the entire experience was incredible. The cave system is extensive and the rock formations are beautifully unique.

I can’t get over how caves like this were discovered. It’s really unbelievable that rational men willingly climbed into a dark hole underground to see how big it was.

Bats are a big thing at Carlsbad Caverns. There’s an amphitheater to watch them leave at night and arrive in the morning. The gift shop is heavily themed around bat memorabilia. Nothing against bats but we timed our visit to avoid them. I have fond memories of being mildly terrified as a kid watching bats swoop over our pool at dusk and snatch bugs off the water.

After the purchase of a pottery vase handcrafted by local Navajo Indians, we made our way outside for a picnic lunch and a sunny walk around Walnut Canyon. Later that afternoon we went back to Guadalupe Mountains National Park for a final hike before starting our trip home.

The first day of our eastward route took us into Dallas for dinner with my friend Anna Del Mul, the second day we crossed Louisiana with a fascinating stop at the World Heritage Site in Poverty Point, and our last day of travel – also the last day of 2021 – brought us home. We welcomed 2022 with gratitude for a safe trip, a free country, and a new year.


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