Carlsbad Caverns National Park: Explore 

250 Million Years of History Underground

Welcome to Day #220 of our "365 Parks in 365 Days" adventure.


"Healthy lungs do grow on trees," I read recently. Flying over the placid farmlands of Minnesota and Wisconsin yesterday, I fully appreciated that as it felt so refreshing to see the land used in a way that still lets it breathe. Small  communities and farms with grazing cattle made a stark contrast to the concrete caverns of New York City that I experienced last week. I admire and appreciate New York City and all it has to offer, and I am  also deeply grateful that there are places in the country where the land is still relatively free. other than in our parks and forests.


 The forests in High Cliffs State Park are just past their showy peak, and still beautifully soothing and tranquil.


The State Park manager who picked me up at the Green Bay airport  took me to High Cliffs State Park where she works, and we drove through almost 1200- acres of showy forests that were just past the peak of fall, alongside the throbbing shores of Lake Winnebago, the largest lake in the state. She shared with great pride and enthusiasm the campgrounds that visitors were decorating for a Halloween open house which draws lots of people from local communities, and we climbed up the observation tower to take in a panoramic view of forest and lake. 


I was most intrigued when she told me that the steep cliffs around the lake actually extend all the way north to Niagara Falls. Wow! Most of all, I was impressed by her enthusiasm and the sheer ebullience with which she approaches her work. It shows when you've found your calling, and I've found that to be true of so many people who work to protect our publicly owned lands around the country. Thank you, Linda!


  This underground kingdom in Carlsbad Caverns National Park has been evolving naturally for thousands of years. NPS Photo.


 From placid farmlands, concrete canyons, verdant forests to subterranean caverns - it seems appropriate that today we should visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico. Although I haven't yet visited this park, I know it provides an opportunity to explore ecosystems that have evolved over hundreds of millions of years.


According to the website,


"The story of the creation of Carlsbad Cavern begins 250 million years ago with the creation of a 400 mile long reef in an inland sea that covered this region. This horseshoe shaped reef formed from the remains of sponges, algae and seashells and from calcite that precipitated directly from the water. Cracks developed in the reef as it grew seaward. Eventually the sea evaporated and the reef was buried under deposits of salts and gypsum.


"Then, a few million years ago, uplift and erosion of the area began to uncover the buried rock reef. Rainwater, made slightly acidic from the air and soil, seeped down into the cracks in the reef, slowly dissolving the limestone and beginning the process that would form large underground chambers. At the same time, hydrogen sulfide gas was migrating upward from vast oil and gas deposits beneath the ancient reef. This gas dissolved in the percolating ground water to form sulfuric acid. The added power of this corrosive substance explains the size of the passageways. The exposed reef became part of the Guadalupe Mountains and the underground chambers became the wonder of Carlsbad Cavern. . . ."


 These imposing formations are aptly named "the Hall of Giants." NPS Photo.


This description at the park's website  provides cultural context:


"History is about change made by people and events and the results of that change.  It is also about how that change stimulates new directions of change. How people changed this area from the frontier to a guano mining area to a world famous geological site and premier showcave to a World Heritage Site is a compelling story told within the beautiful limestone caves and Chihuahuan Desert of southeastern New Mexico.


 This formation is known as :the Witch's Finger," which leads me to ask....who named them? NPS Photo.


"Underlying the rugged desert landscape is one of the most important geologic resources in the United States. ..Preserved in the rocks are the bodies of sponges, algae, snails, nautilus, and many other animals that lived in this ancient sea. Scientists from all over the world visit the park each year to study the structure and fauna of the reef.


"The most famous of all the geologic features in the park are the caves. Carlsbad Caverns National Park contains more than 118 limestone caves, the most famous of which is Carlsbad Cavern. Carlsbad Cavern receives more than 400,000 visitors each year and offers a rare glimpse of the underground worlds preserved under the desert above.


"Twelve to fourteen thousand years ago, American Indians lived in the Guadalupe Mountains; some of their cooking ring sites and pictographs have been found within the present day boundaries of the park. By the 1500s, Spanish explorers were passing through present-day west Texas and southeastern New Mexico. Spain claimed the southwest until 1821 when Mexico revolted against her and claimed independence. Mexico, fighting the westward expansionist United States in the late 1840s, lost the southwest to the US.


I could descend into the entrance of Carlsbad Caverns and discover something untouched since the Dark Ages and beyond, then emerge back into the light of today's evolution. NPS Photo.


"In 1850, New Mexico Territory was created, and for the next 30 years the cultural conflict between American Indians and the US government continued. Eddy, New Mexico, the future Carlsbad, was established in 1888 and New Mexico became a state in 1912.


"Carlsbad Caverns National Park was first designated a National Monument October 25, 1923. It was re-designated as a National Park May 14, 1930, and a World Heritage Site December 6, 1995.


"The park includes the nation's deepest limestone cave - 1,597 feet (486.8 m) - and third longest. Carlsbad Cavern, with one of the world's largest underground chambers and countless formations, is also highly accessible, with a variety of tours offered year round.

It supports a diverse ecosystem, including habitat for many plants and animals that are at the geographic limits of their ranges. For example, the ponderosa pine reaches its extreme eastern limit here and several species of reptiles are at the edges of their distributions.


 According to the Park Service, 'nearly 400,000 Brazilian (more commonly called Mexican) Free-tailed bats call Carlsbad Cavern home in the summer... and all they want to do each night is eat bugs... several tons of them!' NPS Photo.


"The park provides important habitat for top predators such as cougars, and is home to what is perhaps the largest colony of cave swallows in the northern hemisphere. The Bat Cave area in Carlsbad Cavern provides important habitat for a large colony of Brazilian (Mexican) Free-tailed bats as a place to give birth and raise young, as well as a stopover from migration.. ."


Most important to me is that the park allows scientists to discover information about how the earth has adapted to climate changes over eons, which could be vitally important to how we respond together to the greatest  threat facing humanity.


 If you've missed any of our "365 Parks in 365 Days" adventures, find them here  (Archive)

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