Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Right next to Guadalupe Mountains is Carlsbad Caverns just across the state line in New Mexico. I spent an evening and morning here. The first day I got to Guadalupe, there were no campsites left, but there was a campground outside Carlsbad. So I set up shop there for the night and decided to go into that park and see if I could get any advance info to plan my trip there. I turned up just in time for the bat program!

I couldn't bring a camera into the program, so you will have to visualize. There is an amphitheater at the top of the ramps leading down into this cave. I could just see the top part of the opening from where I sat. It started about an hour before dusk I think and a ranger talked to us about the bats. Mainly she was trying to dispel myths. They don't attack people, don't like our hair and rarely carry rabies. In fact, of some 1200 (or maybe more) species of bats, only 3 species feed on blood/meat (and those three aren't in our neighborhoods). Mostly bats are insect eating or nectar feeding. The bats living at Carlsbad eat a particular kind of moth that is helpful to the farmers so the moths aren't feeding on their crops.

It was shortly after 8 I think when the bats started to emerge. It was like a cyclone! They circle in the cave and keep circling, gradually rising out of the entrance and up in the sky, off to their feeding grounds. They were very small. Smaller than the swallows we saw swooping around just before they emerged. The ranger said their core body would be the size of an adult thumb. And if everyone in the amphitheater was quiet, we could hear the flapping of their wings. Unlike birds that can soar on their wings, bats have to constantly flap so they don't fall out of the sky. 

They have 300,000-400,000 bats living in that cave. I watched a steady stream of these bats in a tornado like structure coming out of the cave for twenty minutes before I left. In the sky they can appear like a plume of smoke wafting off in the distance. If you are at the cave entrance an hour before dawn, you supposedly can also see them all come home. That was too early for me though ;). 

It was really cool and I definitely recommend visiting the park just to watch the bats. They do migrate south in the winter, so they aren't around all year long.

My day at Carlsbad was to explore the cave itself. I started as soon as possible in the morning and headed down. There are areas open to all of the general public but other areas you can only visit on guided tours. Some of the tours go deeper and into smaller places. Some you have to crawl. I didn't need that experience. The one I did want though was full and while I was first on the wait list, everyone showed up for their reservations. If you're going to Carlsbad, book your tours well in advance. I got on the main tour though and still had a great time. 

Back at the entrance to the cave and the ramps you walk down. They also have an elevator deeper in the cave and you can take it down and up. 

 There were lots of cool formations and the cave was huge! I believe this was one of the columns - went all the wat from ceiling to floor. 

This was a section they called the boneyard because it is very white in color and full of holes of all sizes. Looks like it could be a pile of bones/skulls. 

A couple of very large stalagmites (or stalactites - I can't remember which one comes up from the cave floor). The pictures also don't do a very good job of capturing many of the formations. Either the lighting throws you off or the space isn't big enough to get the best shot. 

A pool of clear water underneath one of the formations. 

On tour. He needed a volunteer and no one was raising their hand, so I did. My job was to be at the back of the group to keep picture takers moving along and so he'd know when we were all in earshot. I got a Jr. Ranger sticker badge for helping ;). 

This is one that looks like they are touching (it's named something to do with a kiss) but actually they are not. A dollar bill easily was slipped between the two. 

Some more pics of different parts of the cave:

An old ladder used by some early explorers and possibly early tourists. It's headed down to another room in the cave, the one that I didn't get to visit. 

And some human cables. There are tons and probably miles worth of electric cables all over the cave floor to light it up for the tourists. In one section the guide turned out the lights and it was pitch black. Couldn't see my hand directly in front of my face. 

I'm not a huge cave person, but this one was worth it and had some pretty cool places and formations. 

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