We were heading southwest of Carlsbad, NM, looking for Carlsbad Caverns. Given the terrain on our approach to White's City and the beginning of the seven-mile drive to the Caverns' Visitor Center we began to wonder where any kind of cavern could be located let alone "an incomparable realm of gigantic subterranean chambers, fantastic cave formations and extraordinary features" (park brochure).
From hotelscarlsbadcaverns.com: "James Larkin White was the claimed discoverer of Carlsbad Caverns, but he did not found White’s City, New Mexico. Charlie White was its founder in the early 1900′s.... One day, Charlie was on a family vacation to visit the Carlsbad Caverns, when he had the idea to purchase the land adjacent to the canyon entrance to the cave. With very little money and a lot of vision, White’s Cavern Camp was established.... Years later the name was changed to White’s City and the city was officially registered as a recognized city.... The first hotel was constructed in White’s City in the early 1900′s and the still standing Pueblo Motel was built during the Great Depression.
Traveling north from White's City, we began a slight ascent into the Guadalupe Mountains, a mountain range that runs from west Texas into southeastern New Mexico.
Elevations within the park rise from 3,595 feet in the lowlands to 6,520 feet atop the escarpment.
Though there are scattered woodlands in the higher elevations, the park is primarily a variety of grassland and desert shrubland habitats.
The Chihuahuan Desert is the largest and wettest of the North American deserts. Most of this desert is in Mexico, but the park is one of the few places where it is preserved and protected.
The park averages more than 14.4 in of annual precipitation and has a semiarid, continental climate with mild winters, warm summers, and summer rains.
On the tour I took, we left the Visitor Center and descended 750 feet via an elevator to the Big Room.
This was a self-guided tour and allowed visitors to take photos using a tripod, which was quite an advantage for taking photos of portions of the cave at some distance.
And there are some great distances. The Big Room would hold 14 football fields with heights of 6-10 stories (my guess).
"Underlying the rugged desert landscape is one of the most important geologic resources in the United States.
The Guadalupe Mountains are the uplifted portion of an ancient reef that thrived along the edge of an inland sea more than 250 million years ago during Permian time.
Preserved in the rocks are the bodies of sponges, algae, snails, nautilus, and many other animals that lived in this ancient sea. Scientists from all over the world visit the park each year to study the structure and fauna of the reef.
"The most famous of all the geologic features in the park are the caves. Carlsbad Caverns National Park contains more than 118 limestone caves, the most famous of which is Carlsbad Cavern. Carlsbad Cavern receives more than 400,000 visitors each year and offers a rare glimpse of the underground worlds preserved under the desert above" (nps.gov/cave/).
The park offers several tours in addition to the Big Room Self-Guided Tour that I took.
These tours ranged from The Natural Entrance Self-Guided Route a "hike similar to walking into a steep canyon (a descent of 800 feet in one mile)
to The Hall of the White Giant on which "participants navigate ladders, ropes, and slippery surfaces, bellycrawl for extended periods of time, and free climb rock chinmeys."
The tour will continue.