The Bat cave

It was a long drive from Tucson to Carlsbad, nearly a 300 mile drive.  By the time we arrived here we were both tired and I hadn’t done anything!  The last hour approaching Carlsbad was over the Guadalupe Mountains where the sky blackened and the winds picked up.  By the time we got to Carlsbad it was howling about 40 knots.  We are staying about 20 miles north of the city, the caves are on the south western side but because we are here for 2 nights we wanted to be in a nice park.  This one is the nicest we could find.

Carlsbad is all about petroleum and gas production.  You can smell sulphur in the air and see the derricks on the horizon.  The other money spinner for Carlsbad is the caves.  These are no ordinary caves.  They are most impressive.

Our first night in the park had us trying to fall asleep to long flashes of lightening followed by a bone shaking, booming thunder.  The weather here in the US is much more intense than NZ’s weather.

We woke this morning to a bright and warm sunny day and headed off the 40 miles back to the caves.

Approaching the caves, you drive up a windy scenic road which puts you on top of the hills.  The view at the top is impressive, but more so is knowing that the flat land you see to the horizon was once ocean, and the caves used to be at the shoreline.

250 million years ago, in the Permian age, the ocean covered this area of New Mexico and there is a well preserved reef here called Capitan.  It shows the reef was made of algae and sponges.  Today this ocean is desert but it’s desert rich with crude oil which is made from the fossilized plankton that once lived in the ocean.

The caves are in a National Park and at the visitors centre you can choose to descend the 800 feet by elevator or walk down a series of switchbacks into the natural entrance, this is what we did.

The entrance to the cave is smelly from the guano of the bats that live in this part of the cave.  At sundown they all fly out of the cave which apparently is quite a spectacle, but we were there too early to see them fly out.

800 feet down and you enter the Big Room, this is one of the largest caverns in the northern hemisphere, it’s a 1.5 mile walk around it.

There are deeper caves, another 170ft but these are not set up for tourism yet and are still largely unexplored.

The stalagmites and stalactites and draperies in the cave are spectacular, the best we have ever seen, and probably will ever see.  It’s amazing to think that all the weird and wonderful formations were created one drip at a time.  Many of the formations are still growing but most are now dry.  The formations are all created white but minerals in the earth change their colours to browns, reds and greens.

These particular caves are quite unusual.  Usually caves are formed by acidic water cutting through limestone, and that happened here, but also sulphuric acid from the deep oil deposits ate away at the bottom of the cave.

There is a café by the Big Room-imagine working down there each day!  We spent about 3 hours in the cave, and after we had fully explored we decided to walk out the way we came in.  Most people take the elevator.  It was a tough walk out but most enjoyable.

It was a great day exploring the cave-home to the coach to another rainy afternoon.  We won’t be sad to pull out of Carlsbad-the caves made the detour here worthwhile, otherwise this is a destination for the oil and gas worker!