Carlsbad Caverns National Park: “The Big Room”


Whether you walk down through the Natural Entrance, or take the quick trip aboard the elevator, your next destination is the “Big Room”.  Along this route you’ll find some of the caverns’ most impressive stalactites and stalagmites.  The loop route takes about an hour, and is wheelchair accessible (except for one section–you’ll need to backtrack to get around it).

Just how big is the “Big Room”?  The NPS website says it’s approximately 8.2 acres–enough room for 6 football fields.

Big Room, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Every turn along the trail through the Big Room reveals another amazing scene.

Lion's Tails, Big Room, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

These are known as the “Lion’s Tails”.

Hall of Giants, Big Room, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

You’ll truly be amazed by the “Hall of Giants”.  On the left are two stalagmites, known as the “twin domes” (which almost reach the ceiling) and on the right is a 62 foot tall column (no longer a stalagmite, since it now connects with the ceiling).

Here’s a way to remember the difference between stalactites and stalagmites.  Stalactites have to “hang tight” to the ceiling, while you need to keep an eye out for stalagmites, since you “might” trip over them.

Stalactites, Carlsbad Caverns National Park

This cluster of stalactites is near the Hall of Giants, and almost directly overhead.

Stalagmite that looks like a nipple

Do I even need to comment on this one?

Old Ladder into Lower Cave, Carlsbad Caverns

Although the Big Room is more than 700 feet below the surface, there are other, even deeper, chambers below it.  The deepest of which is the “Lower Cave”.  In the early days of cave exploration, spelunkers would use this rickety wooden ladder to climb down, and hopefully, back up again.  Now, there’s a 50 foot steel ladder, and visitors who arrange a special tour can more safely see the lowest chamber of the caverns.

Lower Cave, Carlsbad Caverns

When you reach the far end of the big room, you’re treated to this view down into the Lower Cave.  It’s lit almost entirely with green lights, making it appear much greener than it really is.

Stalagmite at the Top of the Cross, Carlsbad Caverns

A little further, and you reach the “Top of the Cross”–named as a result of the room’s shape, resembling a lower-case “t”.  There’s one mighty stalagmite acting as a centerpiece for a small amphitheater there.

After that stop, I began to realize that I had seen my limit of cavern sights for the day.  The entire tour had lasted 4 hours at this point (although I went slower than the average visitor, taking long-exposure pictures).  Since I needed to hit the road, I power-walked past the rest of the sights and headed for the elevators.

Walnut Canyon, road to Carlsbad Caverns

If you didn’t take the opportunity to appreciate beautiful Walnut Canyon on the drive into the caverns, now’s a good time for a stop.  There’s an overlook that gives you this view, in exchange for a short walk.  Also, there’s a 9 1/2 mile scenic loop road that brings you closer to nature.  I skipped the scenic drive and headed back to Carlsbad.

Note: This trip was first published in 2006.

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