In January, I decided to visit some of the lesser-known, but truly outstanding national parks in the Southwest. One of these is the world-famous Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, via a scenic seven-mile spur road from U.S. 62/180 at White’s City. By far, the most popular tour here for group visitors is the self-guided route through the spectacular Big Room, which is included in the standard park entrance fee.
Rental of individual “Audio Guide” units are an additional $3 per person. This 1.25-mile round-trip, which begins and concludes with an elevator ride to and from the Underground Rest Area, follows a paved, mostly level trail, although there are a couple of hills which are short but relatively steep. Even individuals who tend towards claustrophobia will not be upset by their visit to the massive, eight-acre Big Room, which has a 255-foot ceiling and is filled with beautiful, delicate formations, as well as huge columns, stalactites and stalagmites.
Highlights along the route itself, include the Lion’s Tail, Hall of Giants, Bottomless Pit and the Rock of Ages. Exhibits, a restaurant, book store and gift shop are also available on site. Quality group accommodations can easily be found in the town of Carlsbad, which is 27 miles northeast of the Visitor Center. I would no longer recommend staying in the motel units at nearby White’s City, which seems to have fallen on hard times during recent years.
Groups interested in more extensive cave exploration certainly have a lot to choose from at Carlsbad Caverns. I enjoyed taking the self-guided (and no extra cost) route through the Natural Entrance many years ago, which is a 1.25-mile trip to the Big Room through a steep, roughly 800-foot descent from the surface. Guided tours are available for an additional charge of from $7 to $20 per person over the general park admission, and last from 1½ to 4 hours. Most require strenuous climbs and negotiation of ladders and/or dirt trails that may be rocky or slippery.
Two “Wild Caving” adventures are also offered, which both involve “climbing and crawling, tight squeezes, drop-offs” and a promise that participants “will get dirty.” Finally, in mid-summer, early-rising visitors can participate in the unique “Carlsbad Caverns Bat Flight Breakfast,” featuring the bats’ awe-inspiring return flight to the Natural Entrance at dawn.
Bob Hoelscher, CTC, CTP, MCC, CTIE, is a longtime travel industry executive who has sold his tour company, bought a motorhome and is traveling the highways and byways of America. He is a former chairman of NTA, and was a founding member of Travel Alliance Partners (TAP).
Well-known in the industry as both a baseball and symphony aficionado, Bob is also one of the country’s biggest fans of our national parks, both large and small. He has already visited more than 325 NPS sites and has several dozen yet to see. He is currently traveling the country to visit as many of those parks as possible. His blog, “Travels with Bob,” appears periodically on The Group Travel Leader’s blogsite, “Are We There Yet”.
Bob is available for contractual work in the industry and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (435) 590-1553.