Carlsbad Caverns National Park in Carlsbad, New Mexico has always been a must-see location ever since I began traveling.
I remember when I was a teenager how I always thought Carlsbad Caverns was located in Carlsbad, CA a little over a 1-hour drive from where I live. Not 1-hour north of Texas as I came to realize. I thought it was your typical cave to briefly explore and be wowed.
After spending the previous day exploring the well-known White Sands National Park 4-hours away, my crew and I began our drive as the sun set over the New Mexico desert. We had originally planned to camp at White Sands before learning that all of the camping sites had been reserved earlier in the day. For those who asking if you can camp at Carlsbad Caverns National Park the answer is no. Most National Parks have the nearby campground where you can set-up your home for the night, however not here so you are better staying at the nearby RV Park if spots are available. Don’t forget to see the nearby staff buildings that were completed around the 1930’s.
The park opens daily at 8:00 AM with varying closing hours depending on the time of the year you visit. The Visitor Center prepares you for what to see and what to expect on your hike down to the bottom of the cavern. Did I mention that the bottom of the cavern is 75-stories below the surface? Be prepared. Bring water, light snacks and comfortable shoes for the hike. If you’re not able to physically do the 1.25 mile hike there is an elevator in the Visitor Center that takes you to the bottom. This is your last opportunity to use the restrooms before reaching the bottom of the caverns, so please take note.
Entering through the natural entrance is a steep and narrow walkway that passes through the bat cave into the beginning of the caverns. Depending on the time of the day, you will have the opportunity to witness the bats fly in and out of the cave directly above you. No need to worry, it’s quite safe!
Exploring the caverns
Ascending into the caverns, the route is highlighted with the Devil’s Spring, Green Lake Overlook and The Boneyard. The cavern at anytime can be filled with tourists, so please allow for extra time if you’re like me and looking to capture images.
There is nothing like the Big Room once you reach it! One of the largest chambers in the world, the Big Room is the must-see while at Carlsbad Caverns. Roughly the size of 6 football fields, the circular-route passes through multiple famous formations including the Bottomless Pit, Rock of Ages and Painted Grotto. Due to its lengthy size, there is a shortcut midway into the Big Room to take you break to the break room/restrooms/elevators.
If you’re looking to capture lasting images of the caverns, make sure that you bring with a suitable camera with the proper lens(s). The caverns are very dark with not a great selection of natural light. I had to use a high ISO with a 15-20 second exposure in some locations of the caverns to really bring out all the colors. I recommend bringing with you a wide angle lens, please leave expensive zoom glass in your car it will not be needed. I use a camera that is nowhere near new anymore but have learned how to set-up to produce the images below.