Carlsbad Caverns Lower Cave Tour, Oct. 21, 2014

This was my second time at Carlsbad Caverns, the first being with Adam in 1993. The Big Room is accessible via a 700 foot elevator or a gradual walk-down path. The paths are paved and these areas have radio-access audio tours. For most people these will be the most impressive cave formations they have ever seen and should take 2-3 hours to walk through. Liz and I did this in the afternoon after our morning guided tour.

Carlsbad rangers offer several guided tours into other cave areas. These are detailed here: . Most of these are offered only certain days of the week. For some, like Slaughter Canyon which Adam and I did in 1993, you drive out to a different canyon and hike to a cave opening. Liz and I signed up for Lower Cave, which is about 90 feet below the Big Room.

First we walk down a very short section holding on to a rope.

Ladders have been built for the rest of the descent.

Lower Cave does not have constructed walkways but the path is marked by tape to keep people on track and avoid fragile areas. The first place to squeeze past is known as the Florida Keyhole.

Soon Lower Cave opens up taller.

Sometimes the stalactites do not form smoothly but instead as "popcorn."

A rare feature of Lower Cave is the Rookery, where cave pearls form.

Cave pearls require a shallow depression like the first pic above. Dripping water turns a gravel seed over time, depositing smooth calcium carbonate in a round or cylindrical pattern.

Some larger formations

In the most open part of Lower Cave we can see up to the main area. Here we pose by Fallen Giant, which fell from over 100 feet above but into clay and thus did not shatter.

In this side passage is the Texas Toothpick, the stalactite at right that stops only about a foot above the floor.

In this area the clay settled, cracking some columns.

We moved on past some more detailed features.

And finally into a more confined area

Once away from the display areas, we turned out the lights for a few minutes. Departing, the guide gave us the option of a crawl through.

Several of these are required for the more rigorous Spider Cave and Hall of the White Giant tours.

We looped back to the start of the tour and ascended the ladders to the main cave area.

The Lower Cave tour was at 8:30AM and lasted 3+ hours. We went up the elevator for lunch, then spent the afternoon on the self guided audio tour of the Main Corridor down to the Big Room. At sunset we returned to the Natural Entrance to wait for the Mexican free-tailed bats to exit the cave for their nightly feeding. The bats are only in Carlsbad from late April through late October. It was late in their season, but we saw a very dense flight that lasted at least 15 minutes. There was a huge downpour the day before when we were driving into Carlsbad, so we suspect many of the bats didn't get out that night and there was thus more activity on our day.