Here’s my advice. Visit Carlsbad Cavern after peak season and arrive as the Visitors’ Center opens. No guided tour for your first descent. Take the footpath that corkscrews down through the natural entrance. Let your steps rouse cave swallows lingering on their perches. Feel the depth.
Imagine ancient Native Americans setting fires every so often as they climbed, passing wood down from the surface to enter a holy place. Or the first Anglo cowboy, sliding across wet rocks, the feeble light from his candle unable to breach the darkness above.
Without the crowds – up to 5,000 visitors on a peak day – you’ll have passageways to yourself and share the big rooms with the brothers and sisters of your soul.
Down and down. On and on. Straws and curtains, stalactites and stalagmites, columns and domes, calcite lilies and cavern pearls – tinted sepia in the artfully positioned lights – decorate a gloom that, in the cavern’s natural state, is impossibly black.
The rangers say hundreds of thousands of individual features have been broken off and carried away by souvenir hunters, perhaps starting when the last Ice Age receded but mostly since the 1800s. But the cavern is so enormous, its ceiling so high and walls so steep, that vastly more features were beyond greedy reach and remain untouched.
They say strings of adjectives betray a writer’s poor grasp of language. So be it. I am overwhelmed.
Vast. Magnificent. Spectacular. Humbling. Breathtaking. Inspiring. Mystical. Endless.
I’ve rhymed about the Carlsbad bats, too.