“I am wholly conscious of the feebleness of my efforts to convey in words the deep conflicting emotions, the feeling of fear and awe, and the desire for an inspired understanding of the Divine Creator’s work which present to the human eye such a complex aggregate of natural wonders.”
– Robert Holley, skeptical inspector from
the Department of the Interior, 1923
Where can you experience a dry 100 degrees on the surface, go 750 feet down in less than a minute, and experience damp 68 degrees?
It has been a while since I boosted the National Park system (one of our greatest treasures) but our recent visit to Carlsbad Caverns has me excited all over again. In the southeast corner of New Mexico, this cave system is one of the largest in the western hemisphere. (Cave aficionados quibble over which measurement is being compared but there’s no doubt this is huge.)
The easiest part of the cavern to visit is the Big Room, accessible by elevator and paved one mile walkway with railings and indirect lighting of formations. More energetic visitors can enter through the natural entrance or take guided tours with rangers into various side chambers.
Everywhere you go there is quiet. Most visitors speak in hushed tones as seems appropriate in the dark spaces. Most of the time you also hear a slow drip, drip, drip of water which has seeped through the earth above. It probably is very mild sulfuric acid – the source of the erosion of earlier limestone and the creation of the very decorations we have come to see. The drips occasionally dampen the railings or even fall on your head. The cave is in motion even now!
The liveliest part of Carlsbad Cavern’s “exhibit” in summer is the bat flight. Cave swallows and Mexican free-tailed bats nest near the natural opening of the cave. The swallows come out in the morning, acting as the “day shift” of insectivores patrolling the region. They return late in the day, and then the “night shift” bats come out. The park provides seating for people to watch the exodus, which can last from 20 minutes to 2 ½ hours. When do they come out? One ranger told us “Our program begins at 7:30. The bats come out – when they come out.”
Throughout the park we are reminded of how humans can so easily damage this spectacular but fragile eco-system. I am grateful that treasures such as these are protected for the enjoyment and education of future generations. See it if you can.
Boundaries divide. Travel unites.
13 August 2015