At Cruise America, we like to feature fun places from time to time, in case you want to experience what we see as a “great time.” In this case, we are going to take a look a unique attraction in the most unlikely of places—underneath the earth!
Beneath the picturesque, yet rugged Chihuahua Desert, nestled in the Guadalupe Mountain Range, lies a national park that is ripe with a spectacular natural wonder known as Carlsbad Caverns. It is the largest chambered cavern on the continent.
The mountains of Guadalupe weren’t always mountains. In fact, they used to reside under the ocean as an ancient, flourishing coral reef. Now you may not want to get your seashell-hunting gear out just yet, as it has been quite some time since it was under the water … like, 250 million years. It kind of seems like folks would have scooped up all those pretty shells lying around by now, anyway!
In its day, the reef housed many creatures from the ocean. We know this because preserved in the rocks are fossils of sea sponges, algae, snails, nautilus and more. It was this fossil reef that eventually formed the caves down beneath the desert floor. Over several million years, sulfuric acid dissolved into the limestone that surrounded the reef, and stunning rock formations jutting down from the ceilings of the cave were created. Today, more than 300,000 visitors come to the caverns to be amazed at the intriguing aftermath that was left from the disappearing ocean. It’s as though Father Time designed these wondrous caves, then completely stood still, leaving the walls of the caves exactly as they were formed so many millions of years ago.
If you and your family should travel to New Mexico to experience Carlsbad Caverns, there are a couple of hiking options you will have. One trail is a mile-and-a-quarter long paved trail that is rather steep, which starts at the natural arched entrance into the caves and leads you down to the Big Room. If you want to skip the hike and just get right into the meat of the experience, you can take an elevator from the visitor’s center that will take you directly down into the Big Room trail.
Once you’re in the Big Room, you’ll be able to take the self-guided tour that is included in the admission fee that you will pay when you arrive at the park. If you have a taste for the more strenuous activities, fret not, as there are plenty of ways to satisfy that craving. There are ranger-guided tours that you can sign up for. Some of them are fairly easy, while some of them will make you sweat!
If you visit the caves, remember that you can make reservations up to six months in advance, and up to one day before the tour. While Carlsbad Cavern National Park is open all throughout the year, there are some trails that are only open during the peak season, during the summer months.
The spectacular Carlsbad Caverns make for a great experience for the entire family, but there are a few dos and don’ts. Children under four are welcome on the main trails, but they cannot participate in the ranger-guided tours. Additionally, adults are always welcome on any tours, but you must be aware of your physical capabilities if you choose one of the more difficult trails. It may not be a good idea to take a cave tour if you have heart or respiratory problems. The same goes for those who have feet, leg or back issues, as there is a lot of walking involved.
As far as what to wear on your adventure, remember that the average temperature in the cave is 56 degrees, with a humidity of 90 degrees. It’s never a bad idea to layer up so that you can remove layers as you wish. Additionally, be sure to wear sturdy shoes, rather than flip-flops or sandals. Also, leave the baby strollers and hiking poles in your RV, as they are not permitted on the trails.
There are several great RV parks in the area of the caverns, but be sure to make your plans in advance enough to secure your spot if you plan on staying the night.
The visitor center is open 8–5 during the winter (from Labor Day until Memorial Day weekend) and 8–7 during the summer (from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day). You can make your reservations at the caves by going online or calling 1-877-444-6777.
There is no better time than spending time in a motorhome with your family. If you haven’t tried it, maybe it’s time to give it a shot!