As I completed the one-mile walk around the Big Room in Carlsbad Cavern, I wondered who the first persons were who discovered the cave and what their reactions must have been.
One account of the answers to those questions is found in carlsbad.caverns. national-park.com: "More than 1,000 years ago prehistoric Native Americans ventured into Carlsbad Cavern seeking shelter. They left behind no record of what their impressions of the cave were, but they did leave some mysterious drawings on cave walls near the natural entrance. Much later, in the 1800s, settlers discovered the cavern, drawn to it by the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of bats rising up out of the natural entrance in the evening. Some stayed to mine the huge deposits of bat guano in the cave and sell it as a natural fertilizer. One such man, a cowboy named Jim White, became fascinated by the cave and spent hour after hour exploring it. White was eager to show the many natural wonders of this extraordinary place to others, but few persons believed his improbable tales of a huge underground wilderness full of unusual cave formations. It took photographs to convince skeptics that Carlsbad Caverns was everything it was said to be and more.
"Black and white pictures taken by Ray V. Davis, who accompanied White on a cave trip, were displayed in the town of Carlsbad in 1915. They created a sensation. People suddenly clamored to see the marvelous cave for themselves. White took them on tours that began with an unceremonious 170 foot descent in a bucket once used to haul bat guano from the cave.
"Word of the cave spread, finally reaching Washington, D.C. Again, there were nonbelievers, but in 1923 the U.S. Department of the Interior sent inspectors Robert Holley to investigate and see whether Carlsbad Cavern was truly an outstanding natural scenic wonder. Originally a skeptic, Holly wrote in his final report: '...I am wholly conscious of the feebleness of my efforts to convey in the deep conflicting emotions, the feeling of fear and awe, and the desire for an inspired understanding of the Devine Creator's work which presents to the human eye such a complex aggregate of natural wonders....'
"Later that year Carlsbad Cavern was proclaimed a national monument. White, who was to continue his cave explorations for most of his lifetime, became its first chief ranger. Seven years later Carlsbad Caverns National Park was created to protect the cave. Through illustrated articles published in magazines such as National Geographic and by word of mouth, Carlsbad Cavern became one of the world's most celebrated caves. Since its establishment, the park has been expanded and today includes 46,766 acres and more than 80 other smaller caves.
"And the exploration of Carlsbad Cavern continues. Experienced underground explorers, or cavers and cave scientists are the Christopher Columbuses of today, journeying beyond the boundaries of what is known into the realm of the unknown. Carlsbad Cavern attracts many men and women who are eager to shed light on some of its mysteries. Teams of cavers well versed in safe exploration techniques continue to discover new portions of the cave. Their finds in recent years include the Guadalupe Room, Carlsbad Caverns second largest room, in 1966; the exceptionally colorful and much decorated Bifrost Room, in 1982; the Chocolate High, on of the most recent discoveries, in 1993.
"Scientific discoveries by speleologists, or cave scientists, are expanding our knowledge of Carlsbad Cavern in other ways. Research is answering some of the questions about the complex creation of Carlsbad Cavern, about the unfamiliar world of bats and other members of the cave community, and about the effects of man's activities on the cave."
Seeing this ladder was another sign of early explorers, who must have been both courageous and driven.
Other references to the early explorers are included in this summary: "We do not even know the name of the first cowboy who came upon the "mysterious" opening, or why he came, but it was in the late 1800s. Early reports state that in 1883 a twelve-year-old boy named Rolth Sublett was lowered into the cave by his father. His exploration was apparently limited to that part immediately below the entrance where natural light was available.
Two years later, a young man named Ned Shattuck and his father was searching for a stray cow and witnessed an evening bat flight from the cavern. They reported that the flight looked and sounded like a whirlwind.
Through such encounters, knowledge of the existence of a large cave containing countless numbers of bats slowly spread. Then economic minds began to churn, Where there were millions of bats there would be great deposits of guano, a nitrate rich fertilizer and a valuable commodity In 1903
Abijah Long filed a claim for guano and other minerals on 40 acres surrounding the mouth of what he called 'Big Cave.' Mining operations started soon thereafter. Mine cars were used to transport guano to the entrance. Then shafts were dug nearer to the vast deposits. Evidence of this activity is still visible today one of the mine cars is on display in the visitor center.
Most of the guano was shipped to southern California to help a developing citrus industry. In about 20 years of operation, over 100,000 tons of guano was taken from Carlsbad Cavern, amounting to about 90% of that in place when operations started" (rozylowicz.com/ retirement/ carlsbad).
Sounds as though the bats were the true "discoverers" of Carlsbad Cavern.