Home » 2002 Cross Country Road Trip

Carlsbad Caverns, NM

Wednesday, July 31, 2002 - 5:45am by Lolo
270 miles and 5.5 hours from our last stop - 1 night stay


Water SlideWater Slide We were on a roll now and truly felt that we were on vacation and ready for new experiences. Our next stop after a 5 hour drive was Carlsbad Caverns. As we usually like to do when we get to a new place, we checked into a campground so we didn't have to worry later about where we were going to spend the night. We chose White's City RV Park because it was the closest one to Carlsbad Caverns. Although the campground itself wasn't very scenic, it did have its advantages--a pool and a small water park.

Although our first choice of activities is usually enjoying natural beauty and wonders, the kids (and me) every once in a while need an amusement park fix. Herb was appalled at our decision to spend a few hours at the water park instead of getting to the caves, but he was overruled. The afternoon was hot, and the water slides were refreshing and exhilarating. All potential crankiness and whining was washed away and the family mood was much improved and ready for the next adventure.

Dad and Kids in CaveDad and Kids in CaveWe headed over to the National Park to check out our options for exploring the caves. Unanimously, we decided on the self-guided tour of the Big Room, the largest and most famous of the caves, with a ceiling 25 stories high and a floor the size of 14 football fields. I think the kids briefly considered taking the elevator down into the Big Room, but then wisely came to their senses. Instead we followed the original explorer's route through the Natural Entrance of the cave, a steep 1-mile descent which winds 750 feet down into the Big Room--a much better choice.

As we descended the sharp switchbacks towards the Natural Entrance, we could feel the rush of cold air coming from the cave. We mistakenly thought the black birds swirling around the cave's entrance were bats, but then realized that the bats were still sleeping and these were just birds. Besides the rush of cold air, we immediately got a waft of the pungent smell of bat guano. It was eerie to think that somewhere above our heads, thousands of bats were sleeping and most likely manufacturing more guano.

Finally, after about an hour, we entered the Big Room, which was absolutely breathtaking. We spent the next hour wandering through the enormous chamber admiring the spectacular formations. As spectacular as the Big Room is, Andrew said he preferred Mammoth Cave because it was more natural and undeveloped. The Big Room had restrooms, an elevator, and even a cafeteria. You didn't get that same feeling of exploration as you did at Mammoth Cave. I, however, really felt that the formations at Carlsbad Cavern were more spectacular.

Female BatsFemale BatsAfter dinner in the RV, we headed back to the Bat Amphitheater to wait for the evening flight of bats from the cave's Natural Entrance. Crowds gradually filled the large stone amphitheater built around the Natural Entrance while a ranger gave a short talk on bats. He told us what time they had appeared the previous evening so we waited anxiously as that time approached. Almost to the minute, a few bats appeared and began circling the entrance to the cave. Gradually, more and more streamed out of the cave and did their circling routine before heading towards the river to feast on insects. The whole mass exodus of a quarter million Mexican free-tail bats took about 20 minutes. It was absolutely mesmerizing to watch.


Carlsbad Caverns National Park, in southern New Mexico, has one of the largest and most spectacular cave systems in the world. The park contains some 80 known caves that wind through the limestone of the Guadalupe Mountains.

Cave entranceCave entranceNative Americans had known about the caves for hundreds of years, but it wasn't discovered by white settlers until the 1880s. They discovered the caves because of the millions of bats that flew out of them each evening at sunset.

Jim White, a local cowboy and guano miner, began exploring the main cave in the early 1900s. As word spread, he began taking tourists through the caves. Carlsbad Caverns became a national monument in 1923 and a national park in 1930.

If you only have time to do one thing at Carlsbad Caverns, take the Natural Entrance into the cave, and hike the 750-foot descent into the Big Room. This is the largest and most famous of the caves, with a ceiling 25 stories high and a floor the size of 14 football fields. It is also the most accessible of the caves in that for those not physically able to hike from the Natural Entrance, there is an elevator that will take you directly into the Big Room from the visitor center. The fee for the self-guided Big Room tour was $6 for adults and $3 for children. Allow about 1 1/2 hours for the tour. The tour of the Big Room is a self-guided tour.

There are also several choices of ranger-guided tours through the various cave systems. There is a fee for each of these, and advanced reservations are recommended.

In addition to the cave tours, there is a ranger program offered each evening around 7:30 pm at the Bat Flight Amphitheater at the Natural Entrance. Every sunset from early spring through October, a quarter of a million Mexican free-tailed bats fly out of the Natural Entrance of the cave to begin their nightly hunt for insects.


  • Carlsbad Caverns Bat Flight Amphitheater
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  • White City Water Park and Carlsbad Cavern Tour
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Sigrid on June 6, 2011

6/6/2011...Just checked out the mentioned park near Carlsbad Caverns, there is no pool let alone a waterpark and the reviews of it are not great.

Carlsbad Caverns location map in "high definition"

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