Carlsbad Caverns National Park


Overview | Climate/Map | Things To Do | Lodging/Camping | Nearby Resources

Park History

In 1923, Robert Holley, General Land Office, surveys and maps the cave, guided by Jim White and photographed by Ray Davis of Carlsbad. He recommends establishment as a national monument. That same year, Major Richard Burgess, a prominent El Paso lawyer, begins a campaign to make the cavern a national monument.

In the fall of 1923, Dr. Willis T. Lee first explores the cavern and recommends National Park status. Lee's article appears in February 1924 "National Geographic" magazine. On October 25, President Calvin " Coolidge proclaimed Carlsbad Cave National Monument. It was made a National Park on May 14, 1930. Carlsbad Caverns National Park became a World Heritage Site on December 6, 1995.


 Federal: 46,427.26  Wilderness: 33,125
 Nonfederal: 339.19  Total: 46,766.45

Cultural History

Native Peoples

Rattlesnake Springs, a detached area of the national park, was used by prehistoric peoples who hunted and gathered here when it was a wet marshland. Prehistoric peoples also left drawings in the underground caverns as much as 12,000 years ago. In about 1400, the Mescalero Apache came to the Guadalupe Mountains making the area of the national park their home until they were dispossessed by the U.S. Calvary in the late 1800s to make way for settlers, ranchers and farmers.

Exploration & Settlement

In 1536, Cabeza de Vaca was the first of the Spanish explorers to cross southeastern New Mexico.Two hundred years later, Pedro de Rivera, inspecting this province of New Spain, had his engineer, Francisco Alvarez y Barriero map the Guadalupe Mountains. In 1745, Padre Juan Miguel Menchero mapped the area of present day Carlsbad, indicating herds of cattle along the Pecos River.

In 1849, Captain Randolph B. Marcy explored the Guadalupe Mountains area and numerous expeditions crossed this area recently acquired by the United States. On September 9, 1850, New Mexico became a Territory. In 1858, the route of the Butterfield Overland Mail ran through the Guadalupe Mountains. A stage station is established at Pine Springs.

In the latter 1800s, this region around the Pecos River was frequented by such western legends as Charles Goodnight, Oliver Loving, John Chisum, General Nelson Miles, the Tenth Calvary Buffalo Soldiers, John Wesley Hardin, Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett.

In 1898, Jim White's family settled at Lone Tree, a ranching community 8 miles east of Eddy (renamed Carlsbad). A rock in main corridor inscribed "J White" and "1898" suggests that White probably entered the cavern for the first time in 1898.

Between 1903 and 1923, was the main period of guano mining at the cavern. In 1918, Ray V. Davis first photographs the cavern's Scenic Rooms and Big Room, stimulating interest in the cavern. Davis' photos appeared in the New York Times in 1923. The first elevator was installed in 1925.

By the 1930s the new road to Carlsbad Cavern through Walnut Canyon was completed and numerous buildings had been added to the area above the cave, many of which were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Care of cave formations in the early 1900s was lacking. Caves were not treated as precious nonrenewable resources. The discovery of Lechuguilla Cave in 1986 stimulated new approaches to the conservation of pristine cave environments.


Carlsbad Cavern is located in Guadalupe Mountain limestone, which was deposited in an ancient sea about 230 million years ago. Every passage in the cave is formed by water seeping along a along a fracture. In many places the fractures in the limestone are very complex and formed an intricate maze of passages.

The Guadalupe Mountains are the uplifted remains of an ancient reef which developed around the perimeter of a shallow sea. Unlike contemporary coral reefs, this reef was comprised of the skeletons of calcareous sponges and algae. At the time of the reef's development, corals were not an abundant species. The largest fossil sponge known from the Permian Age was discovered near the entrance of Carlsbad Cavern.

Silts and broken skeletal pieces became trapped within the structure and cemented into place by algal mats. Carlsbad Cavern offers both researchers and the public an interesting view of the interior of an ancient reef. From this perspective, we gain insight into the processes which created the backbone of the Guadalupe Mountains. Through continued research we gain a better understanding of the Capitan Reef and the Permian Age.

The park's most famous cave, Carlsbad Cavern, is over 1,000 feet deep and currently contains 30 miles of mapped passages. The BigRoom of Carlsbad Cavern is the largest underground chamber in the United States. Massive stalagmites, stalactites, columns, flowstone, travertine and cave "popcorn" decorate the room.

Credit: NPS Photo/Peter Jones

The park protects Lechuguilla Cave, the deepest limestone cave in the United States. Lechuguilla Cave was known for years as Misery Hole, a 400-foot long cave which was mined for guano in the early part of this century. For years, those entering noted a wind which issued from a rubble pile within the cave, yet it was not until May of 1986 that an entrance was dug through the rubble to an unexplored cave beyond. Since the breakthrough, Lechuguilla Cave has yielded over 89 miles of passages and numerous mineralogical, geological and microbiological discoveries.

The cave is 68 degrees Fahrenheit with 99% humidity.Here the superlative geological formations have astounded speleologists from around the world. The world's largest collection of bacterially-assisted biotherms exist in the cave. Recent research has revealed unusual microbes in pools-suspected lithotrophic bacteria that derive metabolic energy from sulfur, manganese, and iron. More than 1,200 strains of microbes from pools, soils, corrosive residues, and sulfur deposits have been isolated.

Temple of the Sun Credit: NPS Photo/Peter Jones

In all, the park has 85 caves with a total of over 136 miles of known passages and rooms. These caves contain some geologically unique and rare cave formations. This area contains one of the best-preserved, exposed Permian Age fossil reefs in the world. The park caves provide a unique opportunity to view a fossil reef from the inside.

Natural History

Plants & Animals

Carlsbad Cavern National Park is located in the Chihuahuan Desert, the largest of four major desert regions in North America. The park is characterized by its relatively high elevations, cool dry winters, hot wet summers, and showy desert plants including agaves, yuccas, cacti, sotols and ocotillos. Many of the 800 plant species found in the park are at the edge of their geographical distribution, including several threatened and endangered species.

More than 330 bird species have been recorded within the park. Most noticeable are the circling Turkey Vultures, but also recorded within the park boundaries are 37 different warblers. The cavern supports the northernmost and largest colony of cave swallows in the United States.

Within the park, there are 76 mammal species species including Mountain Lions and Mule Deer i, but at Carlsbad Caverns National Park bats are also popular. Much information has been gathered on these groups of mammals. But until recently almost nothing was known about the most diverse group of mammals inhabiting the park -- the rodents. In the early 1990s, the National Park Service funded a study confirming the presence of 27 rodent species including squirrels, Pocket Gophers, Kangaroo Rats, Pocket Mice, Harvest Mice, Wood Rats and Porcupines.

The park's largest wildlife attraction is a colony of Mexican free-tailed bats, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, that live in the cave. The colony spends six months each summer in the cave where their young are born. Their evening flight from the entrance of Carlsbad Cavern is one of the park's principal visitor attractions. Free-tailed bats are a colonial species that feed entirely on insects. The colony at Carlsbad is comprised primarily of females who give birth to their young from June through July before migrating south in October to winter in Mexico.

For thousands of years, the only influences from the surface came from water seeping through the rock (no flowing streams) and the air which the cave inhaled or exhaled according to changes in barometric pressure outside. In this relative isolation, a separate and unique ecosystem developed which supported its own brand of life. This cave first appeared to be uninhabited, but life exists invisible to the naked eye, newly discovered microbes in Lechuguilla.


Also see -- Chambers of Enchantment - Carlsbad Cavern

Overview | Climate/Map | Description | Things To Do
Lodging/Camping | Nearby Resources

Visitor Center
3225 National Parks Highway

Carlsbad, NM 88220


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