Experience the exquisite beauty and wonders of the Lower Cave!
The casual visitor to Carlsbad Caverns can experience many of the
cave's greatest wonders on comfortable, paved, well-lit trails:
the Big Room, the natural entrance, the bat flights, the King's and
Queen's Palaces, etc. For the more adventurous, the Park Service offers
several ranger led, "off-trail" tours. One such tour is to the
magnificent Lower Cave. Here one walks on the dirt and wears a
helmet with flashlight. The trip starts with a fifty foot descent
into the darkness down a steel ladder. (This is quite an improvement
over the National Geographic expedition of 1924 which reached Lower
Cave by descending a ninety foot pit on a free-hanging, wire ladder,
the remains of which are still visible today!)
Because many parts of the Lower Cave are highly moist, many of the
formations are active and growing. These "fresh" formations are
often white and glazed with the look of sculpted marble. In many places
one can see drops of water hanging on the tips of stalactites (see left).
This creates an extraordinary sparkling effect which cannot be seen
in any of the well-lit main rooms. It is not that easy to get good
pictures of these phenomena: on a short tour like this there is only time for
quick flash photos. (However it is possible to do time exposures in the
main rooms, such as the Big Room, which are backlit.) The ranger
guide does a good job of explaining the science and history of the
cave as well as pointing out highly unusual and beautiful formations.
One of the most unusual is called the "toothpick" (left). This is a huge
stalagmite which stands perhaps eight feet tall and is several feet
wide at the base. Several years ago a core sample was taken from it,
and scientists guesstimated its age at about 300,000 years! (In contrast
a man-made tunnel drilled adjacent to King's Palace in 1932 has several
stalactites growing from the ceiling, none of which is as long as one inch!)
The Lower Cave tour is described as "moderately strenuous". The only
part which might make some people uncomfortable is the initial descent.
More scenes from the Lower Cave: