Carlsbad Caverns Disappearing
Carlsbad Caverns Disappearing!
By Bonnie Mandoe
I returned yesterday from my first trip to Carlsbad Caverns, one of the most breathtaking expeditions of my life (and not just because the elevators were out of commission.)
As it happened, last November, while trying to ascend with the brakes on (!), the 10,000 lb. elevator motor failed and broke in half, leaving rangers and visitors no option but to hike the equivalent of 74 stories in and out of the caverns. That’s what we did yesterday, not without exertion, but with great enthusiasm and lots of rest stops.
Since said elevators exhibited the innate perversity of all inanimate objects(ie, quit on the job), Park Rangers have amused themselves timing their jaunts in and out (between 30 and 40 minutes, estimated time) and they’ve also been losing weight (10 lb. reported by Ranger Virginia.)
Ranger John guided us through King’s Palace. The tour was well worth the small fee because he was well informed and personable, and not least because he was able to turn out all the lights and expose the purest dark I’ve ever seen.
The cave’s geology is interesting, but not as memorable as its history. The caverns at Carlsbad were discovered in 1898 by a teenager, Jim White, who thought he saw smoke from a desert fire. On close inspection, he realized it was a cloud of bats emerging from underground. He fashioned a ladder from fencing wire he’d been using and wood he found; over a period of time, with the curiosity and fearlessness of youth, he explored the huge underground wonderland on his own. Most people didn’t believe what he told them at the time, but now there’s a town, White City, that bears his name at the entrance to the park road. It’s kind of a town and kind of a joke, but you can be sure that the caverns are the real thing.
Of course, they’d been discovered by Native Americans long before Jim White was born, but there is no evidence that they descended into the caves. Their belief system held that the underworld was for the dead, and there is no evidence that they set foot there.
You simply need to see the spectacle of Carlsbad Caverns for yourself; and since the caves are no longer forming and are in fact filling up now, you might want to go sooner rather than later, (although there’s no real rush). This natural wonder took about two million years to form, and will probably take even longer than that to disappear, as stalactites and stalagmites crumble, and as lint and sloughed cells from humans, bats, and other creatures fill the cavernous space.
Although the path is paved and railed, it’s not short and in some places it’s steep; it helps to be in good shape. Call Carlsbad Caverns National Park ( (575) 785-2232) with any questions; Rangers are hoping the elevators will be up and running for Memorial Day Weekend, so saddle up and go! It’s well worth both the hike and the drive to Carlsbad to experience the incomparable and slowly vanishing beauty that’s right beneath our feet.
Copyright Bonnie Mandoe 2016
Mandoe is a visual artist/writer living and working in New Mexico and owner of the Quesenberry Farmhouse Studio/Gallery. See www.bonniemandoe for more information.