For NINE YEARS I’ve been wanting to go to Carlsbad Caverns, ever since my first trip ‘out West’ in 2007 when it was deemed too far south by my traveling companion at the time. So this day – which was also my 44th birthday – was pretty darn special to me.
First tip: the caves (and gift shops AND restaurant) close at 5, even though the bat flight program doesn’t start till 6. So plan accordingly. My friend and I didn’t get there till 1pm for our 1.5 hr guided tour of the King’s Palace, so we immediately had to cut out the 1 hr Natural Entrance self guided tour to fit everything in. I was instantly sad. 😦
Even so, I highly recommend doing one of the guided tours since you will get to see parts of the Caverns that you otherwise wouldn’t. (Maybe one day when I’d like to challenge myself and overcome some psychological fears, I will do the difficult Spider Cave tour with lots of crawling and climbing through high and enclosed spaces. But for this initial visit, the King’s Palace tour gave a nice overview of how the Caverns formed and how they were discovered.)
After the guided tour, my friend and I walked through the Big Room, which totally lived up to its name. I was completely astounded at the vastness of the place. I do believe Carlsbad is bigger and deeper (and less crowded with tourists) than the Luray Caverns in Virginia, which makes Carlsbad a must-see if you’re into this type of thing. (Googling Luray vs. Carlsbad also brought up many sites that ranked Carlsbad above Luray.)
And then of course, la pièce de résistance: the Bat Flight. My friend and I went to the amphitheater around 5:40pm. We watched the cave swallows, took photos, and eavesdropped on random conversations until the program started at 6. We were disappointed that no photos could be taken of the flight due to electronic emissions messing with the bats and patiently sat through the ranger’s presentation till the bats began to emerge around 6:30. Then suddenly they began to spiral out of the cave and into the sky – thousands of them, not much bigger than the cave swallows, drifting like smoke off into the sunset-colored horizon. Truly an experience not to be missed!
MORE INFO: www.nps.gov/cave