few months after his first tentative explorations, White
traveled into the Big Room and the lower cave. He began
escorting visitors through the caverns, using the mine
hoist and guano buckets as an elevator for his tours.
President Coolidge created the Carlsbad Cave National
Monument in 1923, and the site was given national park
status in 1930.
Cave was discovered at Slaughter Canyon in 1937. National
Geographic Magazine featured the caves, and throngs of
tourists came during the 1940s. By then, passenger
elevators had been built. The first self-guided tours
began in 1972, and since then the caverns have become one
of the most popular attractions in the state.
Carlsbad Caverns and New Cave are open to the public.
They are accessed by different roads. The main road from
the village of White's City leads to the visitor center
and Carlsbad Cavern. County Road 418, off Hwy. 62 south
of White's City, runs to a parking lot near the entrance
to New Cave.
area of this huge set of caverns and passages stretches
more than 20 miles. Visitors travel more than 800 feet
below the surface with fanciful formations everywhere.
The temperature here is always 56 degrees. Travelers
through the caves are issued headphones for a narrative
description of the tour, which proceeds along lighted
trails. There are two tours from which to choose,
depending on the time you have. The longer tour (Blue)
provides a three-mile walk starting with a 2-mile descent
on a trail which leads to the Big Room. Reserve about 2
hours for the Blue Tour.
Red Tour enters the Big Room by elevator, descending 750
feet. The loop trail around the room is a little more
than a mile long and takes an hour. Visitors on either
tour may get food at the underground lunch room. Both
tours end with a ride to the entrance by elevator.
a museum with exhibits on the history of the cave and the
surrounding desert landscape, as well as an observation
tower, gift shop, day-care center and pet kennel. Outside
the visitor center is a half-mile nature trail that
provides a self-guided walk over high ground, with
displays of the region's flora and fauna.
trip through New Cave is more adventurous than the tours
of the larger cavern. Here, visitors take a hike through
the undeveloped cave in groups of 25 people, led by
rangers. Reservations are necessary for this tour, and
you are required to bring your own flashlight and water.
The hour-long tour covers more than a mile of
passageways, and the walk is fairly strenuous, with a
climb of 500 feet to return to the mouth of the cave and
the parking lot. Rattlesnake Springs Picnic Area offers
shaded picnic tables with water, grills, and toilets,
beside the road that leads to New Cave.
in the Sky
May through October, visitors gather in the park
amphitheater at dusk to see thousands of bats flying out
of the entrance, just as Jim White first saw the swarm of
bats in 1901. The rodents swirl around and then fly to
the Pecos River Valley to feed on insects. They are seen
again at daybreak, returning to the cavern entrance -- an
area which is off-limits to humans.
is a 9.5-mile loop road which starts 1/2 mile from the
Carlsbad Caverns entrance and proceeds along a ridge to
Rattlesnake Canyon, returning to the visitor center
through Upper Walnut Canyon. There's a guidebook
available for full enjoyment of this fine tour.
Mountains National Park is south of the caverns,
across the border in Texas. Guadalupe Peak is the highest
mountain in Texas. This is a good place to camp while
visiting the natural attractions of the area. Campgrounds
are located at Pine Springs (off Route 62/180) and Dog
Canyon a more remote site accessed via Route 137, which
leads from U.S. 285 north of the town of Carlsbad). One
of the most scenic parts of the park is McKittrick Canyon
where high sheer rock walls protect a variety of plant
species nurtured by a spring-fed creek. This is good
birding territory, and from late October through
mid-November, the oak and walnut trees are ablaze with
brilliant colors. The canyon is at the end of a paved
road off Route 62/180.
Desert State Park is located 4 miles north of
Carlsbad, off Hwy. 285. The Chihauhuan Desert reserve is
home to several dozen species of desert wildlife
including birds and reptiles. An interpretive trail shows
plants that live on the sand dunes. The Desert Arboretum
features cacti from this and other desert regions of the
world. There's a small zoo with cougars, javalina,
bobcats, kangaroo rats, and other animals of the
This small city takes advantage of the nearby natural
attractions, providing services for tourists with a
selection of modest motels and cafes. There are two golf
courses and several nearby lakes for boating and fishing.
Windsurfing is popular on Lake Avalon. There are
campsites and picnic areas at Brantley Lake State Park,
north of Carlsbad on Hwy. 285. A KOA campground and RV
park is located nearby.
Originally just one tourist court near the caverns,
White's City has grown to three motels, the Velvet Garter
Saloon and Restaurant, a hamburger joint, gas stations, a
store (they do a great business selling flashlights and
cameras), the Million Dollar Museum (a hugely popular
commercial attraction), and RV parks. Granny's Opera
House features old-fashioned melodramas.