Carlsbad Caverns National Park was designated a National Monument in 1923. In 1930, the park was declared a national monument to preserve forever Carlsbad Cavern and the numerous other caves that represent fossil reefs from the Permian Age. At 1,597 feet deep, Carlsbad Caverns National Park contains the nation's deepest limestone cave. The park's tunnels also contain numerous stalagmites, stalactites, and a variety of other geological formations that were created over 500,000 years ago.
Almost each startling, sometimes gravity-defying formation is the result of a drop of water that seeped into the caves and onto the limestone bedrock. Although photographer's have captured Carlsbad Caverns pictures, there is no substitute to seeing it for yourself.
The story of Carlsbad Caverns National Park really begins well over 250 million years ago. A 400 mile long reef was gradually formed in the inland sea that once covered parts of North America. The reef, somewhat horse shoe-shaped, was formed from fragments of algae, seashells, sea sponges, and calcite. The sea eventually evaporated, and the reef became buried under salt and gypsum. Forward to a few million years later, when wind and erosion begins to uncover the reef. Rainwater began to drip into the reef, causing the limestone to dissolve. The process that created the incredible chambers of Carlsbad Caverns National Park had begun.
Over one million Mexican Freetail Bats live in the caves of the Carlsbad Caverns National Park. They crowd together at the natural entrance to the caverns, and when night falls, they fly away in massive swarms. The intriguing sight is known as the "Night Flight." The exodus can last anywhere from a half hour to over two hours. Each year, the bats migrate from Mexico and roost in the Bat Cave of Carlsbad Caverns, where the bats are born and raised before they leave to winter in Mexico.
If you plan on visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park, you should begin planning your trip as early as possible. It is highly recommended that visitors make reservations for one of the park's many tours by calling (800) 967-CAVE or online at the National Park Service's website.
You can also take a self-guided tour by visiting the visitor's center and purchasing a ticket. For self-guided tours, you should enter through the Big Room Route or the Natural Entrance Route. Entrance fee tickets can be used for up to three days of the purchase date. The visitor's center provides visitors with a gift shop where you can purchase Carlsbad Caverns pictures and other souvenirs.
Regular hours, which are in place the day after Labor Day and last until Memorial Day weekend, are 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, with tours available from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm. During the summer, the park's expanded hours are 8:00 am to 7:00 pm. The last entrance into the caverns is usually scheduled for early afternoon, so be sure to arrive early to ensure entrance into the park.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located 30 miles southwest of Carlsbad, New Mexico. The best time to visit is autumn, when the weather is not as windy as spring, hot and stormy as summer, or potentially icy and cold, as it is in winter. The caves themselves remain a constant 56 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. A light jacket or sweater is recommended, as are rubber-soled shoes, or any other pair of shoes that provide good traction.