Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located in southeastern New Mexico in the United States. The park holds 46,766 acres of land, of which 2/3 is a designated wilderness, and is thought to have been discovered by Jim White, who entered the Carlsbad Caverns and named many of the areas within the caverns, including Queens Chamber, New Mexico Room, Green Lake Room, Giant Dome, Witch’s Finger, and Bottomless Pit. President Calvin Coolidge established the area as a national monument in 1923, but it was not until 1930 that Congress was able to pass the bill establishing the area as Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

The main feature of Carlsbad Caverns National Park is Carlsbad Caverns, which holds the nearly 4,000 foot long chamber known as Big Room. This room is the third largest within a cavern system in North America and is the largest within its cavern system. The Rookery, a room found in the Lower Caves of the system, has been known to hold cave pearls. In total, the park contains over 117 caves, three of which can be publically toured.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located on top of a bed of limestone that is above a groundwater layer. Between the groundwater and caverns sits a layer of petroleum reserves, which are part of the Mid-Continent Oil Field. It is thought that during the Tertiary period, hydrogen sulfide was released from the petroleum and moved upwards through the water, creating sulfuric acid once it merged with oxygen. The sulfuric acid continued to move upwards and began to dissolve the limestone, creating caverns. This process created gypsum within the caverns, like in Talcum Passage where the floors are covered in the mineral, and allowed for speleothems to develop once the acid was gone. Speleothems were also shaped by the air and water that moved through the caverns once openings were created. These formations include soda straws, helicites, columns, and draperies, which can vary in color depending upon the concentrations of minerals within each area of the cavern system. Lechuguilla Cave is known for its Speleothems, but is not accessible to park visitors.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is home to seventeen bat species, most notably a large population of Mexican free-tailed bats. It is thought these bats once held a population in the millions, but now are estimated to number 793,000 individuals. These bats can be seen in dense groups between the months of April to November and typically emerge at sunset, returning to the caves after about three hours. Park visitors see these bats from an amphitheater, where a park ranger educates them about the bats.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park receives about 407,211 visitors annually and has received 41,654,278 as of 2010. The park is open throughout the year, excluding Christmas Day, and can be accessed by US Highway 62/180. The park offers hiking and camping, but a camping permit must be acquired at the visitor’s center. One area of the park, known as rattlesnake Springs Picnic Area, is detached from the main area of the park and offers a scenic view of the riparian habitat that surrounds it. This area supports over three hundred bird species and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places as an historic district and designated as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society.

Image Caption: Carlsbad Caverns. Credit: Stephen Friedt/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)