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A Million Little Pieces Of My Mind

Carlsbad Caverns

By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 4/15/2024
Occurred: 3/8/2014
Posted: 2/24/2016
Page Views: 1343
Topics: #Places #Photography #CarlsbadCavernsNationalPark #NationalParks #NewMexico #GuadalupeMountainsNationalPark
All the photos from Keith's and my magical tour of the world's most spectacular-yet-accessible caverns.

Despite the fact that we were almost blown completely away by the previous night's windstorm, we were so looking forward to visiting Carlsbad Caverns I had every intention of taking many pictures. (And I did; please give them time to load!)

But first, back to the windstorm.

View From The Tent: After a wind storm.

We camped at a commercial campground just outside of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and during the night a strong windstorm just about demolished our tent. Everything was twisted. One of the poles was cracked.

Hard to believe we emerged alive! --Oh, and it was cold, too.

But even in the commercial campground, nature abounded.

Entrance to Carlsbad Caverns Visitor Center

After an unsatisfying breakfast, we drove back into the park, where even the entrance was spectacular.

The elevators open up on a most unique-looking concourse. T-shirts, anyone? There's even a café and gift shop, all underground. And the air conditioning is all-natural.

While there was a building with exhibits abpve ground, the Visitor Center provides access to the caverns, including quite a bit of conveniences that we normally just accept but here take on a different, almost eerie appearance, such as the restrooms. It tickled me that the men's room was tiled and looked like any other men's room that wasn't 750 feet underground!

Our self-guided tour began in The Big Room. This was the reason we came, why anyone comes here, to see the unadorned, natural formations this exquisite cavern offers. (Unadorned except for the lights, without which we wouldn't be able to see anything at all!)

The Big Room is the largest known limestone chamber in the western hemisphere.

The floor space in The Big Room is estimated at 600,000 square feet.

That's an area equivalent to the size of 14 football fields!

The place is packed with stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and other speleothems everywhere you look.

A speleothem is any cave "decoration". The basic cave hollow is plain; speleothems then decorate the cave by dripping minerals over the course of millions of years.

Walking through the cavern can be dizzying since there are no familiar corners or horizon lines to keep one anchored.

These two very different alcoves, adjacent to each other, demonstrate how dripping mineral-laden water can decorate one area and ignore another.

The Big Room is so large it takes well over an hour to walk the 1 1/4 mile loop trail around it.

The loop trail makes it possible to see many of the larger formations from different angles.

Speleothems form when groundwater containing calcium bicarbonate solution seeps into the cave.

When the calcium bicarbonate solution is exposed to the cave air, carbon dioxide gas is released, leaving a calcite deposit.

250 million years ago, the whole area now encompassing Carlsbad was at the edge of a shallow, inland sea. Marine plants and animals built up a limestone reef near the shore. — at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

60 million years ago, hydrogen sulfide gas from even deeper oil and gas deposits bubbled upwards, mixing with water to form sulfuric acid, which dissolved cavities within the limestone.

The Lion's Tail

Stalactites like this come from the ceiling. Stalagmites grow under them.

When the two parts meet, they form a column.

3 million years ago, water slowly drained from the cavern, causing some sections of roof to collapse.

New formations continue to grow as limestone-laden water drips from the ceiling to the floor in the air-filled cavern.

"Soda straws" are very thin, hollow stalactites formed by dripping water.

Keith, in silhouette.

These giants are two of the largest stalagmites in the cave.

Another view. I love the "teeth" on the stalagmite on the right.

Everywhere you look, there are irregularities in both the ceiling and the floor.

Taken from the 90-foot balcony, known as the "Jumping-Off Place," which overlooks the southern entrance to the Lower Cave.

The Lower Cave is an undeveloped section of Carlsbad Caverns consisting of more than a mile of surveyed passages. — at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Lower Cave and other undeveloped passages are being preserved in their natural state for scientific study.

New passages and rooms are STILL being discovered!

The decomposing, reddish-brown deposits found here and there are evidence that bats roosted on the ceiling here long ago.

While bats still live in Carlsbad Cavern, none presently live this deep into the cave.

Deep caverns like this one are totally dark in their natural state. With no light, food is scarce; most plants and animals cannot survive here.

However, a small number of lifeforms, mostly inconspicuous, have adapted to life in the cave.

Small creatures native to Carlsbad Cavern include cave crickets, spiders, beetles, mites, and springtails. However, I didn't actually see any of them. (But I wasn't looking.)

This area of the cave is composed of a high percentage of gypsum, the same mineral that composes the material of White Sands not all that far away.

Gypsum is also known as hydrated calcium sulfate. Its deposition involves a chemical reaction between surrounding rock and sulfuric acid-rich water which once filled this room.

When exposed to acidic water, gypsum dissolves easily, which forms a lot of the vertical cutouts in the columns.

Deposits are best preserved in drier locations.

Proof that we were there! --And that flash photos don't work well in a cave.

About 95% of the cavern's speleothems are dry and inactive today. Crystal Spring Dome, this sparkling, wet formation, may be the largest speleothem still growing.

Most changes take place too slowly to observe during a single human lifetime.

Dripping or flowing water may cause speleothems to grow OR shrink, depending on the water chemistry and volume.

The Rock Of Ages.

The Painted Grotto

Outside the cavern, it was quite a shock to realize how exquisitely beautiful the surrounding countryside—also part of Carlsbad Caverns National Park—is.

Despite our long cave walk, Keith and I stopped at an "exhibit" with a 500 foot uphill walk to this viewpoint of the road we are about to take.

Some of the formations alongside the road are reminiscent of formations in the cavern.

Continuing on toward home, the fantastic scenery of this State of Enchantment kept distracting us from picking out a suitable campsite for our final night on the road.

We stopped for a picnic lunch in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

We kept driving, long after darkness fell, hoping to find a state park or somewhere we could camp for free.

And so it was in the dark that we covered most of the distance to our eventual campsite in Gila National Forest.