About Carlsbad Caverns

The history of the Carlsbad Caverns, like most stories, can be understood from different perspectives. The modern history of the caves starts with them being set aside as national treasures and as part of the National Park system in the early 20th Century. Prior to that era, the Mexicans and, before them, the Spanish ruled the area. The Native Americans left their mark, as well, with some of the artifacts found in the area dating back as far as 14,000 years. If one takes the geological perspective, the history of these caves spans back as far as 280 million years, when New Mexico looked more like the coastal US.

In 1898, a teenager named Jim White was helping a crew locate stray cattle in the Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico when his eye caught what at first appeared to be a whirlwind high above the hills. White secured his horse to a tree and approached the area to investigate. He soon found himself confronted by an immense black hole out of which flew thousands of bats. In the days that followed, the teen returned equipped with a handmade rope ladder and a kerosene lantern. He lowered himself into the expanse, which is now known as Carlsbad Caverns.

White and a friend later explored and named six of the now approximately two dozen rooms located within the caverns. The latest was found on October 31, 2013 when a technician exploring a chamber named the “Spirit World,” discovered a new chamber above, which was aptly named “Halloween Hall.” Though to date, more than 30 miles of passageways have been explored by scientists, only three miles are open to the public. The locations have paved and lit trails in addition to a visitor center and a cafeteria.

 The Carlsbad Caverns are part of a geological feature called the Delaware Basin. This area is not only known for its caverns but for being a huge oil field. The many calcium carbonate formations found within the chambers include columns, draperies and helictites along with popcorn and soda straws. 

While most limestone caves, such as Carlsbad Caverns, are formed by groundwater, there were very acidic conditions that helped form these caverns. Geological activity freed brine that mixed with other elements to form sulfuric acid, one of the most powerful acids commonly seen, which formed the caves. Some of the most striking features in the caverns wouldn’t be possible without the corrosive action of this acid.

On average, the vast cave system receives more than 400,000 visitors annually. Early evening and morning often bring many guests to the outdoor amphitheater eager to view the cascade of bats exiting and returning to the caves. Researchers using infrared imaging scans estimate that anywhere from 400,000 to 800,000 Brazilian Free-tailed bats make Carlsbad Caverns their home from late spring to the middle of fall. However, approximately 17 different species of bats live in Carlsbad National Park.
In addition to the bat population, the entrance is also revered for the extensive colony of cave swallows that frequent the area. Other exterior cave attractions include three hiking trails and the Rattlesnake Springs Picnic Area. Considered the Caverns Historic District, Rattlesnake Springs features a naturally landscaped oasis that attracts more than 300 species of birds.
Visit CarlsbadCaverns.com for calendar event and tour information along with a spectacular array of interior photographs.