Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico Facts and Tips

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico Facts and Tips

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico Facts and Tips

Everything you need to know & the best tips!

Last Updated December 7th, 2019

Within the Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico, hidden deep under the surface, are over 100 fragile limestone caves bursting with diversity and beauty.

They are known as the Carlsbad Caverns, one of the worlds oldest & most famous cave systems in THE WORLD! And they will definitely blow your mind with how deep these caverns go.

Read on for how to plan you visit to Carlsbad Caverns and travel tips from both a traveler who has been there and a local who you used to live in the town.

Getting to Carlsbad Caverns

If you’re visiting the caverns from out of state, you’ll most likely be staying in the town of Carlsbad, New Mexico. The caverns are a 20 minute drive from town.

If driving from farther away here are directions to the park:

Driving from El Paso, Texas: take US-62 for 130 miles

While driving to the caverns, you’ll be driving towards the mountain that balances a border for New Mexico and Texas. Be sure to observe the small towns and frequented gas stations that showcase the small town life nearby this underground site & reflect on your nostalgia of simpler times.

The turnoff to the national park is marked by White City. White City hosts a collection old western style shops and small restaurants

The entrance to the park is long. Winding roads through undulating bare boned bluffs bring you far away from civilization and will have you wondering how anyone discovered this place way out in the ‘middle of nowhere’.

At the top of the road is the main entrance with a spectacular view of your desert surroundings.  Looking towards the Guadalupe Mountains, all that is seen is desert and desolation. You’ll be left day dreaming of western cowboys kicking their spurs and somehow surviving this seemingly isolated land.

Don't Forget to Pack:

click image to find out more!

Arriving at Carlsbad Caverns & What to do there:

Once you’ve driven the seven miles from the parks marked entrance to the visitor center, you will find multiple parking lots. Park & head get in line.

The park will have a line of visitors waiting to enter at their 8:30am opening time. Once open the line will queue to the ticket station inside. Here is where you purchase your tickets and book a ranger guided tour (if you want to go on one).

Inside of the visitors center you can also rent an audio guide. If you prefer to walk around at your own pace I would suggest renting an audtio guide.

 

There are two ways to enter Carlsbad Caverns:

1. The Natural Entrance

2. The Elevator

Unless you need handicap accessibility or are unable to walk for long periods of time, I would HIGHLY suggest taking the Natural Entrance.

The Natural Entrance is what you see most often in pictures of Carlsbad Caverns. It’s a zig zagged walkway that descends into the caverns.

Once past the shadowy entry, your eyes will slowly adjust to the light-to-dark transition and you’ll begin to be able to grasp the extensive size of this place. It wows each first timer, including myself!

*Once you finish walking through the caverns you can either backtrack to the natural entrance or take the elevator back up. My suggestion- take the elevator back up. It leads into the visitor center.

 Things to do at Carlsbad Caverns

Hours can be spent inside the caverns, examining each stalagmite, small pool of water and colossal ‘rooms’.

  • Hike down the Natural Entrance into the caverns, then meander through the pathways to
  • the Big Room, which takes about an hour and a half to walk through (there are shortcuts throughout to make the walk shorter & wheelchair accessible parts in here)
  • catch the Bat Flight Program – from May to October rangers provide a FREE about the 300,000+ bats that fly out of the caverns every evening and back in every morning. The program takes place at the amphitheater just outside the Natural Entrance. Times for the talk and the bat flight varies depending on the sunset time of the day.
  • Dawn of the Bats – on the third Saturday of July you can join rangers and watch the bats return to the caverns in the hundreds of thousands. Usually around 5am.

 

Don’t be fooled by the desolate desert outside as Carlsbad Caverns holds secrets from earth’s beginning.

Where to stay when visiting Carlsbad Caverns?

There aren’t campgrounds on the national park, so it would be best to either

1. Stay in the town of Carlsbad, New Mexico or

2. Camp at the Guadalupe Mountains National Park

What to wear for your visit

  • Dress in layers – outside of the visitors center is windy and the caverns are cold inside
  • Wear close toed shoes. Many parts of the caverns are wet from natural drips
  • Bring a headlamp if you want to see more of the detail within the caverns

Understanding now that any place can have its hidden gem and surprise you, I’m looking forward to visiting New Mexico again.  Have you ever visited a place with little confidence and been enthusiastically surprised at its unexpected beauty?

Fun Facts about Carlsbad Caverns

  • A 16 year old discovered this place in 1898!  Talk about fulfilling a childhood dream.  I don’t know about you, but I definitely considered a career as a treasure hunter after watching National Treasure, so stumbling upon this place must’ve been incredible!
  • There is a deadly fungus called “White-nose Syndrome” that is deadly & can kill the Brazilian free-tailed bats.  Carlsbad Caverns is host to the highest number of these critters so protecting their home is vital!
  • President Obama came here once for a Fathers day weekend trip with the First Family.

 

TIPS for visiting Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

  • The eco-system in the caverns is delicate & fragile, and is susceptible to damage from human activities. Be your best self and don’t leave ANY garbage inside, do not step on unsolicited walking areas or touch the cave walls & formations.
  • If you have a camera that can withstand darkness with a flash that won’t hurt the quality of the photo- bring it!  My iPhone did okay and my professional camera needed custom Manual settings and my flash still didn’t withstand it.
  • Dress in layers; it’s windy at the buildings entrance and chilly inside of the caves but your body temperature will adjust
  • Include in your arrival time the drive from the entrance to the parking lot.  It’s about a 20 minute drive through winding roads once you pass the entrance to get to the parking lot
  • The parking lot is easily accessible and free!
  • The Visitor Center opens at 8:00am, with the Natural Entrance opening at 8:30am,.  I’d arrive before then to be towards the front of the line to purchase tickets.  Then allow the first round of visitors to enter so that you can take pictures with few other visitors in the way.
  • Take the Natural Entrance into the caverns, and the elevator out.  The winding entrance is a stunning way to enter and shouldn’t be missed.
  • Passes are $15/person.  There are options for ranger guided tours to add on to your ticket
  • The rented audio devices are okay.  Quite frankly, listening to it all became excessive fairly quickly.  I’d suggest reading the general information beforehand to learn about it
  • Arrive before it opens, but don’t go in until most the early crowd goes; this way you can take pictures with the entrance with less people in them (see my images above)

Pin me for Later!

Follow Along

Visit White Sands National Monument

Visit White Sands National Monument

Visit White Sands National Monument

A New Mexican Gem- what to expect & how to plan your visit

Last Updated December 4th, 2019

White Sands National Monument is a hidden gem in the state of New Mexico. It’s best known for it’s beautiful dunes of, you guessed it, white, soft sand. Located in between the towns of Alamogordo and Las Cruces White Sands is a must see destination in South-Central New Mexico.

While planning a road trip can be difficult work, this guide will help alleviate the stress of planning your visit to White Sands.

If you ever find yourself on a road trip through the ‘Land of Enchantment’ be sure to add White Sands National Monument as one of your stops.  Beautiful & serene, it was a stunning place hidden in the desert.

        As an east coast girl, I knew little to nothing about New Mexico prior to my visit… apart from Walter White’s fictional take over and an assumption that there must be tumbleweeds everywhere.  So, when I ventured there for a family visit with my boyfriend I was intrigued as to what he would have planned for us.

So, what exactly is White Sands?

It’s a nationally preserved destination in the Tularosa Basin of New Mexico. Known for its white sand dunes that extend for miles. Every year the dunes shift and change with the wind making it a special place to visit every year.

Where to stay near White Sands National Monument

I would suggest staying in Las Cruces, New Mexico. While it’s an hour away from the dunes, it has the better hotel options compared to Alamogordo and is closer than El Paso, Texas.

How to get to White Sands National Monument

Driving from Las Cruces: take US-70 E for 50 miles, then turn LEFT onto Dunes Drive.

Driving from Alamogordo: take US-70 W for 8 miles, then turn RIGHT onto Dunes Drive.

Driving from El Paso: take I-10 W for 40 miles, then US-70 W for 7 miles, turn LEFT onto Dunes Drive.

My experience: After an evening in Las Cruces, we woke up early to reach this great natural wonder.  Driving through the desert was stunning for sunrise; with little vegetation and vast open lands there isn’t much to hide the sun peaking over the horizon of the mountains west of Alamogordo.

As the terrain began to be hilly towards the end our drive we were able to see the tops of the white sand dunes in the distance. This sneak peek will definitely have you stoked to enter the park!

Check for road closures BEFORE you go

White Sands National Monument is close to the White Sands Missile Range. If you’re driving from Las Cruces or El Paso you’ll want to check if there are any scheduled missile tests prior to leaving. If so, the road leading to White Sands may be closed for over three hours

You can check the National Park Service website for closures. 

 

Entering White Sands National Monument Park

Upon pulling into the parking lot you’ll find a visitor center with a small shop and museum displaying the importance of desert life and its wildlife.

Opens at 8:00am

Entrance Fee: only $5

*White Sands Travel Tip: I would suggest getting there in the early morning when it opens OR in the evening for sunset.  Remember, it’s in a desert, so midday will be extremely hot.

What to do inside of White Sands:

As tempted as you might be to park at the first available spot within the park, don’t! Instead, drive as far back as you can to find solitude away from the other visitors. The park is quite large so drive to the back (before the road curves back towards the entrance).

The road in the park at the base of and in between the dunes. It’s quite scenic with over eight miles of glistening white, cascading dunes

Once parked get out of your car and walk around. Once you’re away from the crowds you’ll easily be able to secure an area for serene solitude.

 *White Sands Travel Tip: We visited in the morning and were easily able to walk around barefoot. Unlike sand you find at most beaches, the sane here is cool to the touch and much easier to walk along than a coastal beach sand.

Be sure to bring a sled with you, or rent one at the visitors center. Call ahead of time to ask about sled rentals, as sometimes they run out. And don’t bother trying to sled with cardboard boxes like we did… they don’t slide (haha!)

What is the sand at White Sands made of & where did it come from?

The sand here made of gypsum – a solft, sulfate mineral -that’s been eroded from the nearby San Andreas and Sacramento mountains. Within the mountains are ephemeral lakes (lakes that fill up with precipitation & then evaporate), and when they evaporate the minerals left behind are transported by the wind and is what forms the dunes.

FUN FACT: gypsum is water soluble, so typically eroded gypsum would runoff to the ocean from rainfall, but White Sands is situated in a mountain basin with no access to leave. This is why it’s built up over time to create the white sands dunes we’ve come to cherish.

Top Tips for visiting White Sands National Monument

  • Go early in the morning or at sunset; it’s in the desert, so the sun will be beaming.  Best to avoid high afternoon sun
  • DON’T leave trash behind
  • Wear whatever you like! Since the sand is easy to walk around on & the dunes are easy to climb, ladies can comfortably wear dresses.
  • Bring your own sled to slide down the dunes. (*we thought a broken down box would work…. It didn’t.) Or you can rent sleds at the guest center
  • Bring a water bottle with you. There is only water at the visitor center, so bring your own out on the dunes if you plan to spend a few hours there.

Don't Forget to Pack:

click image to find out more!

Pin me for Later!

Follow Along