Carlsbad Caverns is an underground wonderland. Nearly a million bats roost in the cave and come in and out from this entrance at dawn and in the dusk from March through October. The scene of endless bats flying out of the cave might be magnificent. Mining of the bat manure led to the exploration of Carlsbad Cavern in the early 1900s.
We started from the natural entrance. From where, Jim White, the cave explorer who discovered this cave, used homemade wire ladder to descend the cave. Chirps of cave swallows added surreal atmosphere to our underground sightseeing. We were to walk down 750 feet underground, equivalent the height of a 75-story building. The switchback paved road took us 200 feet down to the Bat Cave. The path from the entrance to the beginning of Bat Cave was only lit by the natural light. Then we entered the Twilight Zone where we were going to say farewell to the natural light and embrace the darkness and experience the mysterious cave.
After Devil’s Spring, the switchbacks became steep. And my left knee started to ache a little bit. Then we arrived at Devil’s Den where it was 500 feet below surface. The following road was less steep and we were at Iceberg Rock soon. A giant boulder fell from the roof of the cave and only the tip of it was visible. In less than an hour, we finished the Natural Entrance Route and took a break at the Rest Area and Lunchroom. This is the only place that you could use the nice restrooms and eat in the cave.
The tour of the Big Room was all about enjoying a plethora decorations of stalactites, stalagmites, columns in various shapes and sizes. It is the largest known chamber in North America. The temperature in the cave is at 56 °F year around. The Big Room was filled with water when the cave was forming. Now there were only a few small pools in the cave. Occasionally, I felt dripping water dropping from the ceiling. It was the gradual accumulation of calcite from dripping water that shaped the amazing formations. Featured speleothems are “The Caveman,” “Rock of Ages,” “Twin Domes,” and “Chinese Theater.” The intricate layers on “Rock of Ages” recorded every moment of time from its birth. For our lifetime, nature’s work over millions of years seemed to be frozen in the cave, but it is slowly developing. In thousands of years, the stalactite hanging from the ceiling would touch the stalagmite beneath it. There is also a huge wall of gypsum and Bottomless Pit (140 feet deep) at the lower cave.
Walking in the Carlsbad Caverns, we marveled at the beauty and grandeur of this underground wonderland. Meanwhile, my memories went back to my beautiful hometown – Guilin, where small beautiful limestone caves are the gems of the landscape. Carlsbad Caverns are impressive by its behemoth size, steep paths, and bats flight. We spent another one and half hour touring the Big Room. At last, we took the elevator up. The changing number on the screen in the elevator showed the distance to surface, 750…500…200…50…V! Yeah! In just 3 minutes, we made it to the surface from deep underground.
P.S. Images of Guilin can be found at www.china-tour.cn.