Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carved out by the slow drip of water over millions of years, Carlsbad Caverns is one of the largest known caves in the world. The cave provides miles of paved trail to tour the cave, which is incredible in the intricacy and variety of formations, as well as its scale, of course. Only a small percentage of the formations are still growing, and yet the light breeze, humidity, and occasional dripping inside the cave make it feel very much alive.

Before the modern era of crowds, pavement, electric lighting, and elevators (the main tour contains ~800 feet of elevation change), visitors were subjected to candlelit thin rope ladders or rickety stairs. The park service is proud that visitors can now see “more of the cave in less time,” but I wonder if that has perhaps left us worse off than before, with little sense of adventure to be found within the cave.

External to the cave, the national park service preserves a large swath of the Guadalupe Mountain range as a designated wilderness area, contrasting delightfully with the theme-park nature of the main caverns themselves. Hiking into the wilderness, I managed to find some deer at a watering hole, and later encountered a group of bears, which were just as alarmed at my presence as I was of theirs. Gaining the ridge provided sweeping 360 degree views of the surrounding valleys, all in all, terrific hiking.

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