“Nothing like a good surprise.
A week before getting to Carlsbad Caverns National Park (map / wiki), I registered for the Spider Cave tour ($20) Wednesday (2/4/15) for a tour on Friday. The NPS event registration lady was surprised that there was still room on such late notice. The tour only accommodates 8 people, and she said a group of two had dropped out at the last minute.
We hiked into a dry river gully and down a vertical tunnel on a rusty steel ladder before coming to the cave entrance.
The NPS guides called it the “weed out” tunnel. The pinch points in the tunnel were a foot tall and 2 feet in width, and total length of the tunnel was about 40 feet. Sometimes I get into these situations (like riding a rollercoster or most recently bungie jumping) where I reason with myself “Welp, if there’s this many people who have done it and they’re still in business, then it must be safer than it looks.”
Those sound like famous last words – I know. Anyways, I have a video of crawling back out through that section so that should give you an idea of the limited clearance.
Once inside, the cave opened up into a honeycomb of options. It’s like hiking in 3-D.
Instead of just “left”, “right” and “straight”, “up” and “down” are added to the equation. The primary guide, Ben, took us through the circuit. He said that we were going to explore about 1,000 feet of the approximately 4 miles of mapped route in Spider Cave. He also explained that cave cartographers can spend up to a week down hole – exploring, sleeping, eating, relaxing – because getting in and out is too time consuming to make single day trips possible.
Ben had us turn all out head lamps off so we could experience total darkness. I don’t know how best to explain what that felt like, but basically you can open and close your eyes with zero difference in visibility.
The colors in the cave weren’t that varied, mostly a pale tan color with these white extoplasm-looking formations that Ben likened to melted marshmallows. They were tough and dry, not goopy like they appear. There was the occasional yellow/red coloring on the walls and ceiling which was attributed to microbial growth.
After Spider Cave, which was at a depth of only 60 – 80 feet (25 m), I went back to the visitors center and took their elevator down 750 feet (280 m) to the main attraction – known as The Big Room. It was a 1.5 mile loop around the largest rooms and features of the caverns. The whole place is relatively quite (except for the dripping sounds) and relatively dark (except for a few strategically placed lights).
I don’t think pictures have much chance at showing the scene the way I saw it. The details don’t get picked up well in such low lighting.
It makes me wonder how many caves are out there with equally bizarre formations but no audience to appreciate them.”