Tumbleweed Dusty had long wanted to go to Carlsbad Caverns, so we went! Overall this was one of our favorite stays and we plan to go back again sometime.
Camping near Carlsbad Caverns
We boondocked on BLM land. There were four or five other camping units there when we arrived, but there was still plenty of room for us. It was late and dark and we needed to sleep. We figured if the site looked too crowded in morning light, we could find another place to camp then.
When morning arrived and we found our fellow campers to be friendly and pleasant. One family had young children, and ours kids were excited to have new playmates, but we found out they were leaving that day. We discovered the wife was from my home state of Maine, and we exchanged some books with them. Their children played with ours while the parents got ready to get underway, and then they were off.
The couple camped closest to us were a retired couple from Florida in a vantage Airstream. They were from Florida and headed to the Grand Canyon. We had already been to the Grand Canyon and were heading slowly to Florida, so we traded tips on what to see and where to camp.
Another camper was a local guy who said he just liked to come out and camp in the desert every so often. He proved to be a great source of local knowledge- the closest place to get ice, where to buy groceries, that sort of thing. We all had some fun evenings around a communal campfire, sharing popcorn and swapping stories. This particular patch of land was dusty with no shade, but we so enjoyed meeting our fellow-travelers that it was worth it.
Visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Carlsbad Caverns was, of course, the biggest reason we were there. We had planned to hike in through the Natural Entrance and probably take the elevators back up to the surface. We went after lunch only to discover that the elevators were not operating that day and it was too late in the day for us to hike in through the Natural Entrance, see everything, and hike back out. Instead we watched the video in the visitor center and looked at the educational displays. We went back bright and early the next day to find elevator service had been restored. We listened to a quick briefing before heading out to the Natural Entrance.
Carlsbad Caverns is a popular National Park site, and we visited during Easter vacation/spring break week for many schools. The Natural Entrance was worth seeing, but we would have enjoyed it more had it been less busy. The path is narrow, making hard to stop and study formations when there’s a crowd. The trail is mostly switchbacks, and I was being constantly blinded by people’s headlamps or flashlights as they turned the corners. We were appalled by the number of people we saw touching the formations, even after having been told not to at the visitor center and again at the briefing on the way to the entrance.
The cave was beautiful, though. There are interpretive signs, and the audio tour for rent in the gift shop has much more additional information. Photography is permitted, but without a flash my photos didn’t come out great. ( I bought some postcards in the gift shop to keep instead!) one of the hardest things for us is that visitors cannot bring food in. There is a snack bar inside the cave near the elevators, and visitors can purchase food and consume it in the designated area, but outside food is not allowed. The snack bar had a very limited selection and high prices. We didn’t find what we consider healthy choices. Those with food allergies or dietary restrictions may not find anything suitable. If we go again, and I think we will, I plan to pack a lunch to leave in the car, and we can simply ride the elevator up and take a lunch break. There are no restrictions on food outside the cave itself, and there are plenty of picnic areas aboveground. Visitors can carry bottled water, and there are water fountains and restrooms near the elevators in the cave.
Altogether, we spent one full and two half days at Carlsbad Caverns. The first half-day we spent on the educational exhibits in the visitor center. The full day we hiked in the Natural Entrance and toured the Big Room. The second half-day we went after lunch, took the elevator down, and spent time looking more closely at the Big Room, allowing time for the kids to sketch. After the cave closed, we waited around to watch the evening bat flight, which was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. No video or photography is permitted during the bat flight, so I have no images to share here. You’ll just have to go and see it for yourselves!
Things to Do in Carlsbad, NM
In Carlsbad, NM, along the waterfront, we found fun playgrounds and a nice swim beach. There were paddleboat rentals available at the riverfront, though we chose just to swim and wade. We also were able to dump our RV holding tanks for free at the Carlsbad Water Treatment Plant.