Saturday, July 8, 2006

Night Flight

Some people refer to Carlsbad Caverns as the eighth wonder of the world and on a recent visit, I can see why. Take the elevator 758 feet below the surface to see such impressive formations that are hard to describe here. The stalagmites and stalactites produced over thousands of years are spectacular. The caverns also host of hundreds of thousands of bats that leave each night on their nightly hunt for food.

A cowboy, Jim White first discovered the caves at Carlsbad but few people believed his tales of the beautiful formations under the ground. Then, in 1915, a friend, Ray V. Davis accompanied White to the caverns and took some photographs. Once those photographs were made public, scores of people visited the caves but it wasn’t until 1923 that the U.S. Department of the Interior took an interest and sent an inspector to assess the caverns and report his findings. The inspector, Robert Holly, was not prepared to see the magnificent formations that stood before his eyes. His report back to Washington, D.C. stated, “ I am wholly conscious of the feebleness of my efforts to convey in words the deep conflicting emotions, the feeling of fear and awe, and the desire for an inspired understanding of the Divine Creator’s work which presents to the human eye such a complex aggregate of natural wonders.”

At dusk, literally hundred of thousands of Mexican Free-tailed bats exit the mouth of the cavern. Some appear to take their time while others blanket the sky, so dense is their flight pattern. The nightly exodus can last from 20 minutes to 2.5 hours as the last stragglers exit the cave. It is a truly extraordinary sight and well worth the wait.

There are three tours available at the caverns from 1.5 hours to a more strenuous tour that includes some crawling through narrow spaces. I chose the 1.5 hour tour (The Big Room) and stayed for the night flight of bats from the cave entrance. I highly recommend the Carlsbad Caverns as a terrific place to visit.