Exploring Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Great Lake Room

I’ve been told I have RBF. And when I say I’ve been told, like I’ve told myself. I believe my RBF keeps people from approaching me because I look scary. But something magical happened while at Carlsbad Caverns as my RBF, or resting bitch face must have vanished. Strangers from all walks were having me take photos of them at the caverns, asked for advice about the dog kennels at the caverns, and sought motivation from me on the hike up out of the cavern.

Honestly it was strange.  Not to the point that Tony Robbins should be worried however!  

When I arrived to Carlsbad Caverns National Park I needed to board the dogs.  It was too hot to leave them in the car. Note if you leave your pets in your vehicle while at Carlsbad Caverns you can be ticketed if it is hot outside. Although there is a boarding facility in Carlsbad New Mexico, the National Park has a conveniently located kennel at the visitor’s center.

I decided to take advantage of on-site kennel.  I did this for two reasons, one because of the ease and two because of the cost. In order to use the kennels you will purchase a day-use only kennel inside the visitor’s center. This is in the gift shop, not at the rangers’ station.  Kennels are on a first come first served basis and can not be reserved ahead of time.  The National Park website states that it is rare that they run out of kennels.  If you have a big dog, like I do, they may have to go into a smaller kennel than desired due to space.

As of April 2016 the cost for a kennel rental was $10 per pet. The kennel is located on the backside of the gift shop, near the parking lot. It is important to note that the kennel staff will not handle your pets at all. I found this out the hard way when I brought both of my dogs in and tried to load one of them into the kennel and was struggling.  I asked the kennel worker to hold my dog and he responded “I can not handle your dog”.  He then proceeded to stand there and watched me struggle as I shoved my dogs into the kennels. It was annoying, but so was most of my interaction with the personnel at Carlsbad Caverns.

My recommendation if you are going to use the kennels at Carlsbad Caverns is to bring a blanket for your pet to lay on. The word “kennel” is misleading. They are wire crates stacked on top of each other. They staff also zip-ties the crate doors closed. In my line of work, as an actual dog kennel worker, I see all kinds of different dog behaviors and know that zip ties are not totally secure and can be chewed off. We use metal clips to lock our crates when we use them, which are much more secure.  So if you have a chewer, or a pet that gets nervous, you may want to mention that to the kennel staff.  I also recommend taking off any harnesses and collars your dog may be wearing, just so they do not get caught up on the crates while they are in them. For form information about kenneling your dog at Carlsbad National Park you can find it here.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Stalagmite

After securing my dogs for the day I returned back to the visitor’s center to obtain my tour ticket. It was about an hour and a half before the ranger-led tour I wanted to take. When I asked for a ticket the ranger balked at me and told me I was much too late to secure a ticket. He then rudely told me only option was to take the self-guided tour. I can only assume that I was in a long line of people who had previously asked him the same question, but I felt his tone was unnecessary. Perhaps he was having a bad day but all I could think about was kicking him in the shins for being such an a-hole.

As my schedule had cleared up without taking the ranger-led tour I stopped by the visitor information desk. I had read the night before in a pamphlet generated by the National Park Service that there was a dog friendly trail. As I was traveling with my dogs I asked the ranger about the trail. Her response was in a mocking tone “I would be interested to see where you read that”. I pulled out the pamphlet and showed her. Her crabby response was “that’s not in the park”. Again I wanted to kick someone in the shins for being another a-hole. Clearly it was a-hole day there.  I refrained from joining in by not giving these bitchy people a piece of my mind. The emotional damage would have been too much for them.

I left the visitor center in a bit of an annoyed mood but it was shortly turned around as I walked past an older couple who were trying to take a selfie in front of the Carlsbad Caverns sign. I asked if they would like me to take their photo and they took me up on my offer. For the rest of the day I would periodically run into this same couple. They were adorable with their harmless bickering that only comes from many years of being married.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Natural Entrance to Carlsbad Caverns

I left the couple at the visitors center and began the decent into the cave through the Natural Entrance. At the time of my visit the elevators were out of service. The elevators take you down to the center of the cave, however you miss a lot of the the cave by doing so.  I probably would have walked into the cave anyway, because descent is always easier than an ascent, but the lack of elevators solidified this decision for me.  With each step I took going down into the cavern my mind reminded me that I would have to climb back up. The elevation descent is 700 feet (213 meters). It is not a huge loss, but at 4406 feet above sea level (1342 m) and 1300 feet (396 m) higher than what I am use to, along with being a fat ass, I was not looking forward to climb back out.

The Natural Entrance is probably one of the most photographed sites of Carlsbad Caverns. It’s zig-zag entrance takes you down into the darkness of the Bat Cave. It was at this point I realized I was ill-equipped with my point-and-shoot camera. I decided to not take my DSLR because I did not want to deal with the bulk of the camera.  Instead I opted for my hand-held camera. It was dark inside the cavern and everything I tried to get a photo that did not require a tri-pod (which I did not have) was futile. I opted instead to use my cell phone to take photos and hoped that they turned out.  For the most part, it worked out.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Amphitheater for watching the nightly bat flight

After traversing down the National Entrance you enter the Bat Cave. And while I am sure many of you, including myself, hoped for a Batman siting, I did not see any bats, or the Batman. If you are interested in seeing the bats, there is a Bat Flight every evening.  The flight takes place at the cave’s entrance from early spring through October. Amphitheater seating is found at the entrance allowing viewers to see the daily occurrence of thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats leaving the cave for their evening meal.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Bat Cave

The descent into the cave to the Big Room is about 1 mile (1.6 km). The Big Room is the show stealer of the entire cave. To tour the Big Room is an additional 1 mile leading you around an 8.2 acre room.  The room is filled with stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, draperies, popcorn and columns. Your mouth will most likely be gaping open most of the tour.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

The Big Room

Another mouth gaping moment is the gift shop and cafe found near the entrance of the Big Room. Not because of its beauty, like the Big Room, but just from shock that there is a cafe, called the Lunchroom, located inside the cave. An important note about the Lunchroom, it is a cash only establishment. There are restrooms also found in the lunchroom which is a nice benefit.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Rock Of Ages

As I entered the Big Room I ran into the married couple that I had taken a photo of at the visitor’s center. I trailed along with them for a bit answering questions as it was clear to the them now that I was traveling alone. The woman asked all the questions I am use to getting like “aren’t you afraid to travel alone?”, “why are you traveling alone” and “what kind of dogs do you have”. Everyone always wants to know about the dogs!

As I answered her questions the wife said “If I were single and younger I would travel alone”. Her husband interjected “no you wouldn’t, you are scared of everything”.  He proceeded to tell me how his wife would not let him out of the car to take a photo of a Big Horn Sheep that they had seen earlier in their trip. I chuckled at their harmless banter and thought to myself how lucky these two were to find each other.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Hall Of Giants

Eventually I parted ways with the married couple.  I did not want to be a “party crasher” and thanked them for allowing me to tag along. After I had completed the Big Room I move on to the Lunchroom where I saw several people feasting away on sandwiches. I was slightly jealous as I had not planned ahead with a snack other than a granola bar. I ate my crumbling granola bar and drank some water before heading back to the surface. It was probably the least satisfying moment of the day.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

The Big Room

It was now time to begin my ascent out of the cavern. As I stood at the bottom, looking up at what I was about to climb up I gave myself a bit of a pep talk. I agreed to go “low and slow”. I was not traveling with anyone, so there was no one to keep up.  Nor was there anyone judging me on how slow I was walking or how many breaks I took. It was the perfect plan.

As I began to snake my way back up the trail I passed by many people, some walking fast, some walking slow and some resting. There are many rock benches along the way to take advantage of, which I did often. It is important to note that if you do have a medical emergency it may take a bit of time for a ranger to get to you. There are phones found throughout the cave to call for help if necessary, but your cell phone will not work.

There was a scary moment while I was in the cave.  I saw a man sitting on a bench gasping for air about a quarter of the way back to the surface. He had a few people helping him so I moved on.  I heard a few minutes later a cry out for help that echoed throughout the quite cave. I never did pass any rangers with a gurney, so I can only assume the man eventually caught his breath. But nonetheless it was scary to see someone in need of medical assistance and not able to get it quickly.

As I paused for a break, a friendly plus sized girl stopped me and asked me how much further it was to the bottom. She told me she had already turned back once, leaving her friend to carry on, but did not want to miss out on seeing the Big Room. I told her it was not much further and that if I, another plus sized gal could make it, then so could she. I saw a smile cross her face in the dim light and she said “us big girls need to show people we can do it”. She carried on and I am sure she did not regret her decision. Although having to climb back up that trail more than once would have created some regret for me!

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Drapery

As I reached the Bat Cave, still with no sighting of Bat Man, I could see light from the surface. I had made it! Well almost, at least I could see the surface and use that as motivation to get me back. I huffed it back up to the surface and gave myself an imaginary high-five for completing the hike.

Once I reached the surface I made my way back to the visitor center and picked up my dogs. It was nearing 100 degrees at the time of our visit (37 C).  Being that it was so hot I did to not take the dogs on the pet friendly hike that was located “outside of the park”. I made it up to them by taking them to Petco once we reached Carlsbad New Mexico.  I let them pick out some new toys and yes I am aware that they’re spoiled.

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3 Responses to Exploring Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

  1. Renee says:

    There are rules about bringing outside food into the cave. Only bottled water is allowed. Why did you have a granola bar? The snack bar takes credit cards.

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