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Carlsbad Caverns is such a wonder!

Olivier Rey / Red Dirt Report
Soda straws, stalactites and others domes inside Carlsbad Cavern’s Big Room.
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CARLSBAD, N.M. – The “8th wonder of the world!” This is the description accorded to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, as noted on travel websites I've visited.  

However, there is nothing to suggest we are heading to such a natural "wonder" after our departure from Fort Stockton, Texas. The hot and dusty route along the Chihuahuan desert was an infinite succession of oil wells until we crossed into New Mexico, also known as the "Land of Enchantment." What else to expect in this arid region? 

Carlsbad Caverns are situated at the extreme southeastern of New Mexico in the Guadalupe Mountains. The only access to the park is by State Highway 7, at Whites City, a hamlet that during the day looked like a ghost town. Once at Whites City, it was only seven more miles to the famous caverns. 

After going out of our red Dodge Journey parked in front of the visitor center, we could feel the fresh breeze of the morning, a sign of what waiting for us in the cave.

And there it is- the entry of the cave; a large black hole going straight into the abyss. 

Entry of Carlsbad Cavern, the door to the abyss. (Olivier Rey / Red Dirt Report)

Even if traces of human activities have been found around the caverns over the centuries, no one violated the sacred entry of the cavern until a young man named James Larkin White did so in 1898. White, a native-born Texan, and a cowhand to boot, first entered the cave. 

"I found myself gazing into the biggest and blackest hole I had ever seen, out of which the bats seemed literally to boil,” wrote White in his book Jim White's Own Story, the Discovery and History of Carlsbad Caverns.

Since then, the Carlsbad Caverns, from the German name Karlsbad which means "Charles’ bath," has welcomed millions of visitors since becoming a National Monument on Oct. 25, 1923. It then became a National Park on May 14, 1930. 

Initially entering inside the mouth of the sleeping giant, we could smell the guano made by birds, and not bats as I originally thought.  According to the National Park Rangers, bats, numbering in the hundreds of thousands live deeper in the cave. Enjoying the natural protection of Carlsbad Caverns. Unfortunately for us, we will not be able to see their mass exodus at dusk. 

The bat excrement was mined between 1903 and 1923 with other 100,000 tons exploited and sold in California for fertilizer. The guano bucket was used by White to transport tourists in and out of the cave. 

Today there is no more bucket but an elevator for one who wants to go directly to the Big Room without walking the one-mile trail from the natural entrance. Dark and slippery slope, the main corridor goes down to 829 feet below the surface. 

Step by step the hidden treasures start to appear in our view. “What a wonder!” we thought. Stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, draperies, flowstone, column, popcorn and more strange names are used to describe Mother Nature’s work. 

I have been in many caves, but the size of this one is huge. The Carlsbad Caverns are effectively the largest cavern system in North America. The Big Room, called also The hall of the giants has a surface of 357,469 square feet, 4,000 feet long, 625 feet wide and up to 255 feet high. 

Some of the columns look such as a donjon, perhaps dragons lived also here before. Who knows? The size of the cave makes me feel that everything is possible on Earth. 

But all this beauty couldn’t be made possible without proper thousands of illuminations able to highlight the various tons of white, yellow and red. Nature started to sculpt the cave million years ago, the human added the final touch as we know it today. 

After two hours and walking two miles and half inside Earth’s stomach at a constant temperature of 53° Fahrenheit, it was time for us to come back to the living world. By the elevator this time! 

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About the Author

Olivier Rey

Olivier has traveled in 20 countries on six continents before landing in Norman. Native French...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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