Carlsbad Caverns is every bit as impressive as the Grand Canyon or Yosemite. The only difference is, it’s underground–a fact that hides its grandeur from anyone who hasn’t been inside.
From the Visitor’s Center, you can choose to take an elevator directly to the “Big Room” (the easy way), or walk into the caverns, by way of the Natural Entrance (the hard way!). If you choose the Natural Entrance, you can still see the “Big Room”… but if you choose the elevator, you’ll miss out on the leg-straining mile-long, 750 foot descent.
As you approach the Natural Entrance, you’ll find this amphitheater. Crowds gather here in the summer months to watch the nightly exodus of bats from the mouth of the cave. Hundreds of thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats create a living black cloud in the sky.
As you prepare for this part of the trail, remember, it’s not too late to turn back! If you’re not in good shape, your legs will soon feel weak, and you’ll need to make plenty of rest stops. Heck, even if you are in good shape, this trail will take its toll on your legs.
Once you’re inside, the switchbacks continue. The trail only takes you through a small portion of this first room. Notice that dark area in the background? The room keeps going, even though it’s unlit, and there’s no trail into that area. Instead, the trail backtracks, passing underneath the Natural Entrance.
That’s the Natural Entrance above. At this point, you’re almost far enough from it to stop smelling the bat guano. Oh, and enjoy the natural light–it’s the last you’ll see for quite some time.
You’ll find a small, still, reflective pond at Devil’s Spring.
You’ll pass the Whale’s Mouth at about the halfway point between the entrance and the snack bar.
After passing through a couple of big rooms and a few narrow passages, you’ll spot these old wooden stairs at the side of the trail. This is the entrance constructed decades before the elevators were installed. Visitors had to climb down, then up, flight after flight of rickety stairs (and you thought your legs were weak from the Natural Entrance!). Aside from being incredibly exhausting, the stairs were also unsafe, since the moist air quickly rotted the wood.
A little further, and you’ve made it! Welcome to the underground rest area, complete with bathrooms, a snack bar, and a couple of souvenir-stocked kiosks. There are also rows of benches here, so you can enjoy your food and rest up from the long hike into the caverns.
Just off from the snack bar, you’ll find the elevators waiting to take you back to the surface.
Note: This trip was first published in 2006.