Explore The Diversity Of New Mexico National Parks

From rugged mountaintops to grassy plains to lowland desert, New Mexico is indeed a true Land of Enchantment.

Aztec Ruins National Monument  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Aztec Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Encompassing six of the world’s seven life zones, the state’s landscapes exude diversity. Offering unlimited of unique opportunities, the Land of Enchantment attracts millions of visitors who seek out its scenic beauty and countless outdoor recreation activities.

Enjoy camping, hiking, biking, fishing, boating, birdwatching, picnicking, photography, stargazing and much more. You can do all this and more for bargain prices in the national parks of the Land of Enchantment.

In an earlier post Vogel Talks RVing discussed the unlimited opportunities available for outdoor recreation and camping at New Mexico’s 35 state parks—24 having ponds, streams, rivers, or lakes.

Vogel Talks RVing also discussed New Mexico State Museums and Historical Sites worthy of a visit this summer.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When planning a weekend getaway or summer vacation, also consider coordinating visits to national parks in the area.

There are 19 national parks, national monuments, and national historical trails within the borders of New Mexico.

Aztec Ruins National Monument: Aztec ruins, built and occupied by the Ancestral Puebloan people over a 200-mile period, preserves an extended and planned community of a variety of structures. Included are several large, multi-story public buildings (“great houses”), many smaller residential pueblos, ceremonial kivas, remnants of linear “roads,” and earthen berms.

Bandelier National Monument: Thirteenth-century pueblo-style dwellings dot the rugged, canyon-slashed slopes and bottoms of the Pajarito Plateau. The Bandelier terrain is challenging, the scenery spectacular, with elevations ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 feet, and lush, narrow canyons that alternate with sweeping mesa-top vistas.

El Malpais National Monument  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capulin Volcano National Monument: Capulin Volcano, a nearly perfectly-shaped cinder cone, stands more than 1,200 feet above the surrounding high plains of northeastern New Mexico.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park: Established to preserve Carlsbad Caverns and numerous other caves within a Permian-age fossil reef, this park contains more than 100 known caves, including Lechuguilla Cave—the nation’s deepest limestone cave, at 1,567 feet, and the third longest. The Big Room is one of the world’s largest and most accessible underground chambers.

Chaco Culture National Historic Park: Chaco Culture preserves one of America’s most significant and fascinating cultural and historic areas. Chaco Canyon was a major center of Ancestral Puebloan culture between AD 850 and 1250. It was a hub of ceremony, trade, and administration for the prehistoric Four Corners area—unlike anything before or since.

El Malpais National Monument: Although el malpais means “the badlands,” this unique area holds many surprises. Lava flows, cinder cones, pressure ridges, complex lava tube systems, and other volcanic features dominate the mysterious El Malpais landscape.

El Morro National Monument  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Morro National MonumentEl Morro’s Inscription rock in northwest New Mexico bears silent witness to more than 700 years of history. Drawn here by its secluded water hole, Anasazi, Spanish, and Anglo cultures marked their passing by carving 2,000 petroglyphs and inscriptions on this sandstone bluff. Inscription Rock is a soft sandstone monolith, rising 200 feet above the valley floor.

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument: Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument offers a glimpse into the homes and lives of the people of the Mogollon culture, who lived in the Gila Wilderness from the 1280 through the early 1300s. The monument is surrounded by the Gila National Forest, and lies at the edge of the Gila Wilderness, the nation’s first designated wilderness area.

Petroglyph National Monument: Petroglyph protects a variety of cultural and natural resources, including five volcanic cones, hundreds of archeological sites, and an estimated 25,000 images carved in rock by native people and early Spanish settlers.

Petroglyph National Monument  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Monument: This site contains a large portion of the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. Here, glistening white dunes rise 60 feet high, and cover 275 square miles. Driven by strong southwest winds, sand slowly but relentlessly covers everything in its path. Surprisingly, many small animals and plants have adapted to this harsh environment.

Please Note: This is Part 3 of a 3-part series on the Public Lands Of New Mexico

Worth Pondering…

If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.

—Georgia O’Keeffe

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National Parks Impact Local Economies

National park visitors contributed $26.5 billion to the nation’s economy and supported almost 240,000 jobs in 2013, according to a peer-reviewed report.

salt flats at Badwarwe Basin
Walk onto the crusted salt flats at Badwarwe Basin (Death Valley National Park) for a short distance to enjoy the expansive views up and down the valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“National parks are often the primary economic engines of many park gateway communities,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis, in a news release.

“While park rangers provide interpretation of the iconic natural, cultural, and historic landscapes, nearby communities provide our visitors with services that support hundreds of thousands of mostly local jobs.”

National park visitation for 2013 declined by 3.2 percent compared to 2012. The 16-day government shutdown last October accounted for most of the decline. National parks in the Northeast, closed for Hurricane Sandy-related repairs, were the other significant brake on visitation.

Visitor spending for 2013 was down by 1 percent. The number of jobs supported by visitor spending was off by 2.1 percent, and the overall effect on the U.S. economy was 1 percent lower than the previous year due to adjustments for inflation.

“The big picture of national parks and their importance to the economy is clear,” Jarvis said. “Every tax dollar invested in the National Park Service returns $10 to the U.S. economy because of visitor spending in gateway communities near the 401 parks of the National Park System.”

Just when you think you’ve seen as much color and sculptured rock for­mations Mother Nature can create, you enter Bryce Canyon for yet anoth­er brilliant and stunning display. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Just when you think you’ve seen as much color and sculptured rock for­mations Mother Nature can create, you enter Bryce Canyon for yet anoth­er brilliant and stunning display. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jarvis said visitation so far this year indicates a rebound from 2013 and he expects a steady increase as excitement grows in advance of the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service.

The annual report, 2013 National Park Visitor Spending Effects, was prepared by economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas and Christopher Huber of the U.S. Geological Survey and Lynne Koontz of the National Park Service. It includes information by park and by state on visitor spending within 60 miles of a national park, jobs supported by visitor spending, and other statistics.

According to the 2013 report, most park visitor spending was for lodging (30.3 percent) followed by food and beverages (27.3 percent), gas and oil (12.1 percent), admissions and fees (10.3 percent), and souvenirs and other expenses (10 percent).

The largest jobs categories supported by visitor spending were restaurants and bars (50,000 jobs) and lodging (38,000 jobs).

Total recreation visits and total visitor spending ($000s) in selected National Park Service sites follow:

Arches National Park, Utah: 1,082,866; $120,171.7

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah: 1,311,875; $105,705.8

Carlsbad Canyon National Park, New Mexico: 388,565; $23,589.7

Death Valley National Park, California: 951,973; $75,255.1

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona and Utah: 1,991,925; $115,593.6

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona: 4,564,841; $476,194.8

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee: 9,354,695; $734,086.6

Joshua Tree National Park, California: 1,383,341; $62,929.9

Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California's southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation.
Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California’s southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Arizona and Nevada: 6,344,714; $260,500.1

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado: 460,237; $45,089.8

Padre Island National Seashore, Texas: 515,381; $20,967.0

San Antonio Missions National Historic Park, Texas: 521,705; $28,576.1

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia:1,136,505; $72,402.6

Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming: 3,188,030; $381,762.7

Yosemite National Park, California: 3,691,192; $373,269.8

A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah: 2,807,387; $147,501.9

Details

National Park Service

Since 1916, the American people have entrusted the National Park Service with the care of their national parks. With the help of volunteers and park partners, the park service is proud to safeguard these special places and to share their stories with more than 275 million visitors every year.

More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America’s 401 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities.

Website: www.nps.gov

Worth Pondering…

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

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National Parks Best Seen in Spring

Spring feels like a new beginning as nature bursts with life, plants are in bloom, and everyone becomes a little more eager to get out and explore the great outdoors.

A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And there’s no better way to experience nature than in one of our magnificent national parks.

Following are four national parks that are tops for replenishing your get-up-and-go and best visited in spring, each offering a wonderful array of seasonal experiences.

So venture forth now and you’ll avoid the hordes of summer vacationers!

Zion National Park 

Zion National Park is a stunning park no matter what the season. But spring takes its grand appearance to new levels.

When you first see Zion, it’s hard not to be blown away by the massive canyon walls that seem to stretch for miles into the sky. And visitors are encouraged to explore those canyons, sandstone cliffs, and rugged trails in order to truly appreciate the park’s beauty.

What makes this park really pop in the springtime is the chance to see canyon walls covered in hanging gardens of wildflowers.

Easily one of the most dramatically beautiful landscapes on the planet, Zion National Park’s cooler spring temperatures make for more pleasurable hiking along its many trails. Spring visitors to Zion enjoy fewer crowds, spectacular high-volume waterfalls courtesy of the snow melt, and rare glimpses of green contrasting against the sun-drenched orange rock.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park 

Beneath the rugged desert, rocky slopes and deep canyons that make up Carlsbad Caverns National Park, lies an underground treasure including more than 117 known caves.
Beneath the rugged desert, rocky slopes and deep canyons that make up Carlsbad Caverns National Park, lies an underground treasure including more than 117 known caves. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For many, springtime offers an opportunity for a first trip of the year. And if you are just getting back out there, the last thing you want is a crowded park. This spring, avoid the crowds and visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park for a unique and exciting adventure.

At this southern New Mexico national treasure visitors explore a world over 700 feet below the earth’s surface. Giant rooms of limestone, stalagmites, stalactites, cave pearls, and underground lakes. Visitors can experience famous cave rooms full of fissures and tunnels. Guided tours will inform about rock formation, cave exploration, and the animals who can survive at such deep depths.

Spring is a great time to visit Carlsbad Caverns as the bat population makes its presence known.

Arches National Park 

With the highest density of natural stone arches in the world (more than 2,000 of them), and driving through Arches National Park is a surreal experience. In April and May, and even early to mid June, you’re likely to have it mostly to yourself. Temperatures are a mild 65-75 degrees, and the La Sal Mountains are still snow-capped, which makes for startling photos of the orange sandstone arches and clear blue sky.

Stargazing in and around Arches is world-class thanks to minimal light pollution. In spring, the sky is particularly clear.

Joshua Tree National Park 

Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California's southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation.
Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California’s southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When viewed from afar, Joshua Tree National Park seems like long stretch of quiet desert. In fact, many first time visitors are surprised to find that the park is full of vitality. While the park is full of history and amazing geology, springtime brings out the best of the best.

During March and April, the trees that gave the park its name begin to bloom with their large, creamy flowers. The rest of the park follows with annual flowers popping up along all elevations. Once May and June roll around, the cacti are bursting with bright flowers. Joshua Tree National Park quickly becomes a desert in bloom.

Springtime brings numerous birds into the area, many in transient or getting ready to nest. For birds, Joshua Tree offers a relaxing warm home, away from the harsh weathers during migration.

So what’s not to love? Perfect temperatures, bird watching, and a desert land of wildflowers in bloom. Sounds pretty awesome.

Worth Pondering…

The world is exploding in emerald, sage, and lusty chartreuse – neon green with so much yellow in it. It is an explosive green that, if one could watch it moment by moment throughout the day, would grow in every dimension.
―Amy Seidl, Early Spring: An Ecologist and Her Children Wake to a Warming World

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50 Places to Discover in an RV

You might have read it or seen it on a shelf and thought, “I should pick that up.”

A highlight for most visitors to Capitol Reef is the scenic drive from the visitors center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A highlight for most visitors to Capitol Reef is the scenic drive from the visitors center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s the national bestseller, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.”

Sometimes the best adventures are those in your own backyard.

Here, in alphabetical order, are 50 things to do or see in your RV before you die:

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Much of Capitol Reef is an inviting wilderness of sandstone formations such as Capitol Dome, Hickman Bridge, and Temple of the Sun and Moon in the backcountry of splendid Cathedral Valley. The central geologic feature, the Waterpocket Fold, is a bulging uplift of rainbow-hued sandstone “reefs” and canyons.

Rock art petroglyphs are abundant and tell the story of the early indigenous people, the Fremont Culture. Close by are the orchards of Fruita, an early pioneer settlement—and now headquarters for the park.

Continue reading →

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

The Chihuahuan Desert, studded with spiky plants and lizards, offers little hint that what Will Rogers called the “Grand Canyon with a roof on it” waits underground. Yet, at this desert’s northern reaches, underneath the Guadalupe Mountains, lies one of the deepest, largest, and most ornate caverns ever found.

Water molded this underworld four to six million years ago. Some 250 million years ago, the region lay underneath the inland arm of an ancient sea. Near the shore grew a limestone reef. By the time the sea withdrew, the reef stood hundreds of feet high, later to be buried under thousands of feet of soil.

Continue reading →

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

No place else on earth combines a deep, pure lake, so blue in color; sheer surrounding cliffs, almost two thousand feet high; two picturesque islands; and a violent volcanic past. It’s the deepest lake in the U. S. and its reputation as a spot of overwhelming, sublime natural beauty—the “Gem of the Cascades”—extends around the globe.

Approximately 7,700 years ago, 12,000 foot Mount Mazama erupted and collapsed on itself, forming a large, bowl-shape caldera. Remaining lava flows sealed the bottom and, after a long period of cooling, the caldera filled with rain and snow, creating the sapphire-blue lake.

Death Valley National Park, California

Death Valley National Park gives new meaning to the word extreme. Telescope Peak, the highest peak in the Park, rises 11,049 feet and lies only 15 miles from the lowest point in the United States in the Badwater Basin salt pan, 282 feet below sea level.

Hemmed in by nine mountain ranges, Death Valley is cut off from rainfall and cooling Pacific winds, making it one of the driest and hottest places in the world. The highest temperatures in the United States are regularly recorded here with a record high temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit in 1913.

Denali National Park, Alaska

Denali National Park is home to North America’s highest mountain, Mt. McKinley, towering over 20,300 feet tall. The 6 million acre National Park will also give you one of your best opportunities to see Alaska’s wildlife such as grizzly bear, moose, wolves, Dall sheep, and caribou.

The main cavern is located 754 feet below the Visitor Center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The main cavern is located 754 feet below the Visitor Center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 90-mile road into Denali Park has restricted access and private vehicles are only allowed on the first fourteen miles. You will almost certainly want to travel further into the Park on a narrated bus tour or Park Service shuttle.

Everglades National Park, Florida

The park is at the southern tip of the Everglades, a hundred-mile-long subtropical wilderness of saw-grass prairie, junglelike hammock, and mangrove swamp that originally ran from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay.

The park’s unique mix of tropical and temperate plants and animals—including more than 700 plant and 300 bird species, as well as the endangered manatee, crocodile, and Florida panther—has prompted UNESCO to grant it international biosphere reserve status as well as World Heritage Site designation.

Please Note: This is Part 3 of an 8-part series on 50 Places to RV Before You Die

Worth Pondering…

I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.
—Susan Sontag

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Top 10 National Parks: Is Your List Better Than Mine?

People like lists. No, check that, they love them. Particularly when they disagree with them and think they have a better list. So, here’s my personal Top 10 list of national parks.

How does it match up with yours?

10. Canyon de Chelly National Monument (Arizona)

Spider Rock, the unofficial symbol of Canyon de Chelly, is a sandstone obelisk that rises more than 800 feet from the canyon floor at the junction of Canyon de Chelly and Monument Canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Spider Rock, the unofficial symbol of Canyon de Chelly, is a sandstone obelisk that rises more than 800 feet from the canyon floor at the junction of Canyon de Chelly and Monument Canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly has sheer sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present day life of the Navajo, who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor.

The northernmost and southernmost edges are accessible from paved roads—the North and South Rim drives. The South Rim Drive offers the most dramatic vistas, ending at the most spectacular viewpoint, the overlook of Spider Rocks—twin 800 foot towers of rock isolated from the canyon walls and a site of special significance for the Navajo. Beyond the rocks, the main canyon continues unseen for many miles.

Since Canyon de Chelly lies on Navajo land, unsupervised access is restricted to the rim overlooks and to a single trail into the canyon, leading to the White House Ruins, as for all other trips down or along the canyon, a Navajo escort is required.

Continue reading →

9. Shenandoah National Park

Vistas of gently sloping mountains, forests, and tumbling rivers, and mountain streams are stunning especially during autumn. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Vistas of gently sloping mountains, forests, and tumbling rivers, and mountain streams are stunning especially during autumn. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park is a beautiful, historic national treasure which includes the scenic 105-mile long Skyline Drive—a designated National Scenic Byway. The Park covers the crest of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains for over seventy-five miles.

The Native Indians named the valley Shenandoah, mean­ing Daughter of the Stars, for the expansive firmament that roofed their world. Daylight vistas of gently slop­ing mountains, forests, and tumbling rivers, and mountain streams are equally sparkling.

As each season arrives, and the changing leaves hit their peak of rich color, the expansive views become a tapestry of lush green in spring and summer to red, yellow, and orange in autumn. Along the way, milepost markers help you identify your surroundings—and find the perfect place to pull over and enjoy the panoramic views.

Continue reading →

8. Carlsbad Caverns National Park

The Chihuahuan Desert, studded with spiky plants and lizards, offers little hint that what Will Rogers called the “Grand Canyon with a roof on it” waits underground. Yet, at this desert’s northern reaches, underneath the Guadalupe Mountains, lies one of the deepest, largest, and most ornate caverns ever found.

Water molded this underworld four to six million years ago. Some 250 million years ago, the region lay underneath the inland arm of an ancient sea. Near the shore grew a limestone reef. By the time the sea withdrew, the reef stood hundreds of feet high, later to be buried under thousands of feet of soil.

Guided tours of varying difficulties in Carlsbad Cavern and other park caves are available. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Guided tours of varying difficulties in Carlsbad Cavern and other park caves are available. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some 15 to 20 million years ago, the ground uplifted. Naturally occurring sulfuric acid seeped into cracks in the limestone, gradually enlarging them to form a honeycomb of chambers. Millions of years passed before the cave decoration began. Then, drop by drop, limestone-laden moisture built an extraordinary variety of glistening formations—some six stories tall; others tiny and delicate.

Continue reading →

7. Zion National Park

In the heart of desert slot canyon territory in southwestern Utah is the most awe-inspiring place on the planet: Zion National Park. With the competition Zion faces from its neighboring national parks in the American Southwest just standing out in this esteemed crowd would seem to require some noteworthy scenery. Zion delivers it in spades.

Continue reading →

6. Joshua Tree National Park

Late afternoon shadows enhance the beauty of Joshua Tree. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Late afternoon shadows enhance the beauty of Joshua Tree. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park encompasses one of the most interesting and diverse patches of desert in the U.S. Its namesake species, the spiky, dramatically crooked Joshua tree, is also considered by many to be the defining characteristic of the Mojave Desert.

But this huge desert park actually lies at the meeting point of the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts. The park’s eastern and southern areas, with sub 3,000-foot elevation and plants such as “jumping” cholla cactus and spidery ocotillo, is Sonoran in character; its western areas are higher, cooler, wetter, and quite densely forested with the park’s namesake tree.

You’ll find the tumbled granite boulders to which the park owes its recent fame in the high central range. And don’t miss the towering fan-palm oases, where an entire realm of wildlife revolves around their precious water.

Continue reading →

Worth Pondering…
National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

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Beauty & Wonder: Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Above Ground

Above ground throughout the summer, you can see hundreds of cave swallows at the mouth of the cavern.

Though there are scattered woodlands in the higher elevations, the park is primarily a variety of grassland and desert shrubland habitats. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Walnut Canyon Loop Road is an interesting 9.5-mile drive that affords views of Chihuahuan Desert vegetation, wildlife, ancient reef and lagoon deposits, and the distant Guadalupe Mountains. At the time of our last visit in November the road was still closed as a result washout conditions from heavy monsoon rains.

Bat Flight

Beneath the natural entrance is a Bat Cave that is used by nearly 400,000 Mexican free-tail bats for about seven months a year. At dusk, these bats come spiraling up out of the natural entrance in breathtaking numbers. Flying to places as much as 50 miles away, they spread out over the countryside to feed on insects.

After leaving their cave, the bats descend on the nearby Pecos River Valley to feast on insects. To find their prey, they employ a unique radar system which scientists call echolocation. As they fly, the bats emit ultra-high-frequency sounds. When these signals strike an object, they are reflected back and heard by the bats. This enables them to hone in on the smallest insects as well as avoid any object in their flight path.

Caves are fragile environments that are affected by human activities and natural processes occurring both underground and on the surface. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After a night of feasting, the bats return to the cavern at dawn.

The bat flight is a very impressive sight, and many park visitors gather at dusk to watch it and be amazed. A seated viewing area, the Bat Flight Amphitheater, has been constructed near the entrance. Evening bat-focused programs and interpretive services are provided. The exodus can take over two hours!

In late October, the bats leave the cavern for their wintering grounds in Mexico. In the spring, they return to renew their nightly spectacle.

Did You Know?
Nearly 400,000 Brazilian (more commonly called Mexican) free-tail bats call Carlsbad Cavern home in the summer… and all they want to do each night is eat bugs… several tons of them each night!

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Details

Operating Hours: Open year-round, 24 hours a day

Admission: $6-20 for cave tours; all federal lands passes accepted

Elevation: 3,595-6,520 feet

Park size: 46,766 acres or 73 square miles

2010 visitation: 428,524

Location: From Carlsbad, 16 miles southwest on Highways 62/180 to White’s City, 7 miles west via paved park entrance road.

Camping: No camping facilities, but there are several campgrounds in nearby Whites City and Carlsbad

The main cavern is located 754 feet below the Visitor Center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Address: 3225 National Parks Highway, Carlsbad, NM 88220

Contact: (575) 785-2232

Web site: nps.gov/cave

Note: This is the final of a three-part series on Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Part 1: Underground Wonderland

Part 2: Grand Canyon with a Roof on It

Worth Pondering…

I came to more and more stalagmites-each seemingly larger and more beautifully formed than the ones I’d passed. I entered rooms filled with colossal wonders in gleaming onyx. Suspended from the ceilings were mammoth chandeliers-clusters of stalactites in every size and color. Walls that were frozen cascades of glittering flowstone, jutting rocks that held suspended long, slender formations that rang when I touched them-like a key on the xylophone. Floors were lost under formations of every variety and shape.

—Jim White’s Own Story

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Grand Canyon with a Roof on It: Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Cave Tours
Carlsbad Caverns is renowned for its cave tours, especially the Big Room Tour and the Natural Entrance Tour. While no reservations are needed for these self-guided tours, ranger-guided tours do require reservations, and some fill up quickly.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located in the Guadalupe Mountains, a mountain range that runs from west Texas into southeastern New Mexico. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All ranger-guided tours can be reserved on a space available basis up to two days prior to the date of the tour. Any unsold tickets are sold at the Park’s ticket office on a first come-first serve basis.

The temperature in the caves is 56 degrees Fahrenheit year round, so you’re advised to bring a sweater or light jacket with you. You’ll do a fair amount of walking, so wear comfortable shoes with rubber soles for good traction.

Self-Guided Tours

The basic cavern entry is by way of two self-guided routes, the Big Room Route and the Natural Entrance Route.

Big Room Tour

Every visitor wants to see the Big Room, a chamber so large you could fit the U.S. Capitol into just one corner. Elevators at the visitor center take you to lighted passageways—essentially a trail system—lying 754 feet below the surface and equivalent to a 75-story building. The elevator emerges at the Underground Lunchroom, which offers restrooms and drinking fountains as well as a snack bar.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park contains more than 110 limestone caves, the most famous of which is Carlsbad Cavern. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From there you take the Big Room Trail, a one-mile trail that loops around the perimeter of the cave’s largest chamber. The trail is well lit, wide, and gently sloped; a portion is wheelchair-accessible. You can take a self-guided tour of the Big Room in about 90 minutes. You’ll end your cave tour as it began with an elevator ride.

Natural Entrance Tour

Somewhat more demanding is the Natural Entrance Route, a mile-long trek that follows the path of Jim White and other early explorers.

In a spiraling descent from the surface and through the main corridor, this route culminates in the cavern lunchroom. Along the way, visitors pass the Bat Cave, Devil’s Spring, the Devil’s Den, the Witch’s Finger and Iceberg Rock, a 200,000-ton limestone boulder that geologists believe fell from the cavern ceiling thousands of years ago.

Consider substituting the Big Room Tour for the Natural Entrance Tour. The Natural Entrance Tour (i.e. a complete cave tour) enters the cave via a natural entrance and returns to the surface via the visitor center elevators.

You’ll enter the natural entrance on a switchback trail and walk downward into the cave complex. Make sure you are capable of handling the physical demands of the Natural Entrance Tour. Considered moderately strenuous, this tour involves a 750-foot descent in about one mile and involves a number of steep descents and switchbacks. About three miles of walking is required.

Combining the cavern entry with the Big Room tour will take about 3 hours.

Ranger-Guided Cave Tours

Carlsbad Cavern receives more than 300,000 visitors each year and offers a rare glimpse of the underground worlds preserved under the desert above. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Six guided tours are available—King’s Palace, Left Hand Tunnel, Slaughter Canyon Cave, Lower Cave, Hall of the White Giant, and Spider Cave.

Reservations are highly recommended for all guided tours. For advanced reservations, call (877) 444-6777 or visit the Recreation.gov website.

Guided tours range in difficulty from walking on paved trails to walking rough dirt trails to crawling through narrow cave passages. Consult the park newspaper, the website, or check with a ranger for more information regarding difficulty and required equipment.

Note: This is the second of a three-part series on Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Part 1: Underground Wonderland

Part 3: Beauty & Wonder

Did You Know?
Most of the formations—or speleothems—found inside Carlsbad Cavern today were active and growing during the last ice age when instead of having a desert above the cave, there were pine forests.

Worth Pondering…

The beauty, the weirdness, the grandeur … absolved my mind of all thoughts of a world above. I forgot time, place and distance.

—Jim White

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Underground Wonderland: Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Below the arid mountain and desert landscape of the southeast corner of New Mexico lays an underground world of awe-inspiring and dazzling proportions. It’s a magical world of mysterious passageways, colossal rock formations, crystal-clear pools of water, and giant subterranean chambers. This is the renowned Carlsbad Cavern, one of the caves protected in the nearly 47,000 acres of Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Welcome to Carlsbad Canyon National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The enormous subterranean caverns, located 755 feet beneath the Chihuahuan Desert in southeastern New Mexico, provide a stunning glimpse into the geological evolution of a cave system that is more than 600,000 years old. Carlsbad Cavern’s painted grottos, giant domes, soda straws, helictites, stalactites, stalagmites, and other remarkable rock formations make it one of the most renowned cave systems in the world.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park preserves at least 113 separate limestone caves, including Carlsbad Cavern and Lechuguilla Cave—the deepest cave in North America.

Discovered by Native Americans over 1,000 years ago and rediscovered by settlers in the 1800s the caverns were extensively explored by Jim White, a local cowboy.

In December 1898, Jim White was mending fences on a section of range near the Guadalupe Mountains, southwest of the frontier town of Eddy, which a year later would change its name to Carlsbad. It was near sundown, and White was about to turn his horse for home when he was attracted by a distant funnel-shaped cloud rising from the desert floor.

All visitors to the park should tour the main section of the cave, the Big Room self-guided tour. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Riding closer to investigate the strange phenomenon, White was startled to find that the “cloud” was actually millions of bats streaming from a large circular opening in a hillside. In his memoirs, White wrote:

“I sat for perhaps an hour watching the bats fly out. I couldn’t estimate the number, but I knew that it must run into millions. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that any hole in the ground which could house such a gigantic army of bats must be a whale of a big cave.

“I crept between cactus until I lay on the brink of the chasm and looked down…There was no bottom in sight. I shall never forget the feeling of awe it gave me.”

A few days later and with only a lantern to light his way, White cautiously descended into the cave. He describes his first venture into the subterranean darkness:

“I entered rooms filled with colossal wonders in gleaming onyx. Suspended from the ceilings were mammoth chandeliers—clusters of stalactites in every size and color. Walls that were frozen cascades of glittering flowstone, jutting rocks that held suspended, long, slender formations that rang when I touched them, like a key on the xylophone.

“Floors were lost under formations of every variety and shape. Through the gloom, I could see ghostlike totem poles, tall and graceful, reaching upward into the darkness. I encountered hundreds of pools filled with pure water as clear as glass, their sides lined with crystalline onyx marble.”

When Jim White reported his discovery of the rock wonderland beneath the desert floor, no one would believe him. His claims were dismissed as the over-active imagination of a man who had spent too much time alone on the range.

Jim White continued to work and explore in the cavern. He was the Park Service’s senior guide until 1929, when he retired because of failing health. He died in 1946.

Designated as a national monument in 1923, Carlsbad Caverns became a national park in 1930.

In 1995 the park was named a World Heritage Site.

Early visitors to the caves were lowered, in a bucket, 170 feet to the cave floor. Apart from the natural light that filtered into the mouth of the cave, the journey through the caves would have been in almost total darkness, with only the light cast from a small miner’s lamp to guide them.

Today, it is very different. There are two self-guided tours and six ranger-guided tours from which to choose.

How the Caverns Were Formed

Guided tours of varying difficulties in Carlsbad Cavern and other park caves are available. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rainwater, carrying weak carbonic acid, percolated down through reef fractures in the limestone and ate away at the rock. Hydrogen sulfide gas from deep oil and gas deposits rose to meet and mix with this water, which formed reef-eating sulfuric acid. This acid, in turn, created the huge chambers and corridors.

Dissolved calcium carbonate deposits have formed fantastic sculptured stalagmites that rise from the floor, mammoth stalactites hang from the ceilings and delicate twisting helictites protrude from the walls. The rate of water flow determines their size and shapes.

Note: This is the first of a three-part series on Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Part 2: Grand Canyon with a Roof on It

Part 3: Beauty & Wonder

Worth Pondering…

Billions and billions of drops later, thousands of formations had taken place, and, oh, the shapes they were.

—a national park service geologist

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