Day three of our trip to Carlsbad Caverns was the day we planned to do activities all together with both families. We had breakfast together, then packed up our cabin as we weren’t spending another night and then all headed down to the park. We had two choices:
- Take the elevator straight down to the Big Room
- Walk the trail down to the Big Room by way of the Natural Entrance.
We were all eager to see the natural entrance and knew that we ran the risk of burning out the kids before we even got into the caves, but decided to go for long route anyway. The trail through the Natural Entrance is paved and about 1.25 miles long. The Natural Entrance itself is just short of enormous and I’m sure that if it weren’t in the middle of nowhere the settlers would have found it much earlier. As it was Jim White, a young cowboy, found it while following what he thought was a smoke plume that turned out to be bats leaving the cave entrance. This wasn’t until 1898. Of course native tribes had known about it much longer and there are still remnants of ceremonial pits just next to the entrance.
Amber and I almost had a minor tragedy. We had forgotten to bring the extra memory card for the camera. Don’t ask how it got out of the camera bag in the first place, I don’t want any more tense moments. We took a few pictures leading up to the entrance, but quickly filled the card which already contained a large number of photos from earlier in the trip and from back home. Luckily I had failed to upload our photos to flickr the night before and had a copy of everything on my laptop. So we were free to delete everything on the card. I’m not sure what we would have done, to be honest, but it wouldn’t have been pretty. As it turns out shooting in the Big Room was difficult because of the lack of light, the immensity of the place and because we didn’t have the time to do it right.
The walk into the cave is really great actually. There are some huge boulders (think bigger than your house) that fell from the ceiling. Some pools and examples of just about every cave formation. The size of the cave is pretty amazing here. Often huge ceilings and very wide you’ll turn a corner and end up having to duck to squeeze through a narrow passage. Careful if your son is in a carrier on your back (sorry Emmett and Wesley). The kids were done before we got to the end of the trail. They were glad to get to the cafeteria and have a snack and a break. The cafeteria is just what it sounds like. A working cafeteria with picnic tables all over the place and of course a gift shop. It was mostly shut down while we were there because the restrooms were closed for renovations. I must have seen a hundred signs saying “There are no restrooms in the caverns”. Now I’ll have to go back just so I can pee 750+ feet under ground.
We started to take the Big Room tour, but before we even got into it the room the kids had pretty much lost it. The path doesn’t really keep you off the cave floor if you are less than 3 feet tall so that was a problem. New plan. Amy and Jason go first, we’ll watch the kids in the cafeteria. They’ll get back and take the kids up for lunch while we explored the Big Room. Amber and I flew through the Big Room. They say to leave about 1.5 hours for the tour. Frankly that is really much faster than I would have gone. Given my druthers I’d say 4 hours maybe a little more. We did the whole thing, including many pictures in just about 45 minutes.
The Big Room is rather amazing. Just huge with a staggering number of features. The trail winds in and around some very neat ones. The room it turns out is sort of cross shaped with the long main access branching off into two side rooms. Among the notable features is the Bottomless Pit. Turns out it is only about 140 feet deep. Amazing what electric lights can do. One of the most amazing things to me was that this room sits directly on top of Lower Cave where we had spent 4 hours the day before. That is a tremendous amount of rock to be supported by a bunch of air. At a couple of places you can see down into Lower Cave from the Big Room, assuming you know what you are looking at.