Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM

Carlsbad, NM

The weather on Saturday was cold and misty, a perfect day to explore a large cave with a constant temperature of 56 degrees.  So we drove about 20 miles back down NM 62 from the town of Carlsbad to the entrance for Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

The entrance road gains a bit of elevation between the highway and the visitor center and we entered a thick fog as we drove up into the park.

Once at the visitor center we showed our OPNPP (Old People’s National Park Pass) and headed toward the cave entrance.  There are two self-guided tours available to visitors (you can also sign up for a ranger-led tour if you want a more extensive tour).  One is the Big Room Tour, a one mile loop accessible by elevator.  The other is the Natural Entrance Tour, a one mile tour that follows the traditional explorers’ route and enters the cavern through the large historic natural entrance.  The Natural Entrance route descends over 750 feet into the ground following a steep and narrow trail through a tall, open passage called the Main Corridor.  This route ends near the base of the elevator where you can then take the Big Room Tour.

The trail starts with a series of steep, winding switchbacks that reminded us of Walter’s Wiggles on the trail to Angel’s Landing in Zion NP.

Going down . . .

. . . and down. See the people far below ?

From early spring to October the area just below the entrance is home to a large number of Mexican free tailed-bats.  One of the most popular activities in the park during that part of the year is to sit in an amphitheater at dusk and watch the bats leave the cave.  But the bats are smarter than us and head to warmer places for the winter, so no bat show for us.

Looking into the bat cave

We spent the next couple of hours exploring the cave.  Pictures cannot capture the beauty we experienced, but we’ll share a few so you get a taste of what we saw.


Twin domes and giant dome


Early exploration ladder

Rock of Ages


As we began our descent into the cave, we volunteered to take a picture of a young lady taking the tour alone.  As we proceeded we engaged in conversation and ended up completing the entire tour with her.  Keishia is a military contractor currently working at Fort Bliss in nearby El Paso.  She works in logistics for the army and is heading for Kuwait tomorrow.  We found Keishia to be a wonderful person and really enjoyed sharing the cave experience with her!

Pam and Keishia

We really enjoyed our experience in exploring the caverns of Carlsbad.  It’s one of those places that everybody should visit at least once in their life.  The place is spectacular!

Today (Sunday) was cold and rainy so we spent the day watching hockey and football.  We leave Carlsbad tomorrow but are not quite sure where we will be tomorrow night.  Hueco Tanks State Park is located just east of El Paso, right on our route west.  We learned from friends that the park has some interesting hiking so we called to see if there is a site available in the campground.  But the campground office is closed on the weekend (we hope they answer the phone on MLK Day) so we’ll try in the morning.  If that doesn’t work out, we’ll continue on to Las Cruces.

More on that later . . .

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43 Responses to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM

  1. Laurel says:

    Definitely go to Hueco Tanks if you can! We’ve been twice ( and absolutely loved it. The hiking is fun and the pictographs are unlike anything you’ll see anywhere else. (You have to shimmy in on your belly to get to some of the best ones!)
    So glad you enjoyed Carlsbad Caverns — it’s quite the hike down, isn’t it? We also had to hike back up after our day below ground, because the elevators weren’t working. It was a good workout. :-)) Your photos are wonderful!

    • placestheygo says:

      Laurel, I was just reading your post for Hueco Tank SP. I remember you going there but forgot it was near by. I’m glad our friends went recently and shared photos to jar my memory. It was definitely a steep hike down into the cavern. We decided to just take the elevator back up:) We aren’t in hiking shape yet:)

  2. geogypsy2u says:

    Carlsbad is a very impressive cave. I remember that long walk down, and elevator back up. You got some good shots of formations. Rainy here too.

  3. Debbie L says:

    Nice! After our last cave tour, we decided that was enough-but I’m sure if we ever get to NM, we’ll have to take this tour!
    Since Monday is a Federal Holiday, I’m pretty sure the office will be closed. Check on RVillage and see if anyone is there. They could let you know if there’s sites available. I think you could do “self check in.” But then you never know!

    • placestheygo says:

      There is no self check in at Hueco Tank. As a matter of fact, it is tough to get in when they are open. We had to park the MH at the office and watch a 10 min video on the park and its fragile environment before we could even go to the campground. Then, everyone is off the mountain by 5:00 and you can’t leave the park after 6:00 except for an emergency. The gates are all locked. They mean serious business here to protect everything. But we got a great site and are looking forward to getting a day permit to hike tomorrow!

      • Debbie L says:

        Wow! That actually sounds good. We’ve been in some state (so far no national) parks where the hikers/day trippers are so irreverent. In one place in particular, the Ranger’s run an education center about why you don’t leave trash or trample the artifacts. But those who do don’t visit it to learn how destructive their behavior was!
        Can’t wait to read on!

  4. Rebecca Salazar says:

    I see you two are headed west and inching closer to Tucson … hint hint ….. any chance for another Tucson visit this winter to say hello soon ?

  5. pmbweaver says:

    We love that Cavern. You are right…photos just don’t capture the beauty. Glad y’all had a great time, and how nice to share your experience with a new friend.

  6. colemanavegirl says:

    When we left Bayfield the very first time RVing back in 06 we had only one destination….Carlsbad Caverns. We loved what we saw and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Took the elevator down for the Ranger tour in the morning, back up, grabbed some lunch at the rig then headed on back down through the bat cave. We have been to Kartchner Caverns near Benson Az as well but we enjoyed the Carlsbad Caverns more because of it’s size and freedom to explore around on our own. Nice to see you folks heading west again.

  7. Jacquie says:

    Thanks for reminding me what a spectacular place the Caverns are! It would be so amazing to see the bats flying out that I’d definitely make another trip. Your pictures are great and capture the beauty and grandeur. Enjoy!

  8. Gay says:

    Carlsbad Caverns is still on the bucket list! Your pictures are amazing. It’s great that you can choose to tour on your own or have a ranger led experience. I would love to see the bats too!

    • placestheygo says:

      The cavern was on our list, as well. But it is so not on any of our usual paths back and forth to the east coast. I’m glad we decided to forgo Big Bend NP and head to the cavern instead.

  9. Maxxtrails says:

    We have done the Kartchner Caverns and hope to some day get to the Carlsbad Caverns, especially after reading your post! It’s alway nice when you meet interesting new people!

  10. We’ve been to Carlsbad Caverns twice now and really enjoyed it both times. We like that you can do the self-guided tour at your own pace.
    Hueco Tanks is interesting but you can only do guided hikes to protect the rock art. Not our most favorite way to hike!

    • placestheygo says:

      We really enjoyed the self-guided part of the two trails, as well. Going at your own pace is so much more fun. We got a great site at Hueco Tanks!! Hopefully, getting a permit in the morning will be successful!

  11. Sherry says:

    You got some reallhy nice pictures of the formations. That’s always a challenge in a cave. The twin domes and rock of ages are just gorgeous. I thought your Hmmm looked like a shelf mushroom! Wonder if a rope ladder is how the explorers first went down into the natural entrance. Reminds me of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky where we spent a week taking all their tours and hiking all their trails. Really want to go to Carlsbad. Thanks so much for the intro to it and letting me know I should try for spring to see the bats. Hope you get to stay at Hueco Tanks.

  12. girlonahike says:

    I lived in Las Cruces, NM for 7 years so this was a place we went to often when we had family visiting, or for girl scout trips. It’s a great cave! -Alicia @

  13. Jeff says:

    Your low light pictures of the formations bring out the sights quite nicely. We did not not do Hueco Tanks … didn’t even know of them at the time. Following recommendations of your readers looks like that would also have been something we should have done!

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Jeff! We were pleased that so many photos did turn out. The cave is very dark. We got a site at Hueco Tanks and in the morning we hope to get a hiking permit. We’ll let you know how that goes!

  14. Mike Jones says:

    Carlsbad is an awesome cave and you took some great pics. I was there in the summer and the bat exit is amazing. Glad you could share the experience with Keishia.

  15. Jim and Barb says:

    We are doing Kartchner in a couple weeks when we are in that area but Carlsbad is high on our list and hope to get there next year.

  16. montanaclarks says:

    Loved your photos–we took the guided hike and enjoyed it so much!

  17. Keishia says:

    Thank you for posting lovely pictures. I enjoyed my time with you both while walking the caverns. It was a great experience and I look forward to viewing the rest of your blogs as you travel.

  18. We love and enjoyed our own exploration, it is really an amazing cave and you captured great photos of the formation inside. It was quite a workout down and up. Amazing place!

  19. We really do need to make our way to the caverns (especially now that the elevator is fixed!) snicker, hmmm, snicker….. How fun to make a new friend while underground! Love the drapes, just beautiful 🙂 We’re looking forward to New Mexico in a few days, but it looks like it is much colder there?

    • placestheygo says:

      Our weather has been in the 50’s which is fine as long as the sun is out:)
      Seems like we are going to have more wind here in NM over the next week. High winds kind of put a damper on things.

  20. LuAnn says:

    We too loved Carlsbad Caverns. As wonderful as the caverns were, this is also were we had issues with our transfer case, although we wouldn’t learn this until we limped into Tempe. We also had an ice storm while there. So the caves were memorable for us but the area was as well, for much different reasons. Glad you are making your way back west.

    • placestheygo says:

      We are very excited to be back west. We hiked today in the Organ Mountains and had two miles of snow/ice/slush to hike through which was fun and scary in parts. It was so wonderful to be in the rocks with those wide open views. Carlsbad Caverns was great fun. I’m glad it worked out to visit finally. It is not exactly a convenient location. Sorry to read about your not so pleasant memories.

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