The Beauty of Slaughter Canyon Cave
One of my favorite things about being a park ranger is that I never have two days alike.We have different duties, perform tasks in rotating areas, and we talk to different people every day.Every ranger at Carlsbad Caverns is trained in each program from bat flight to surface activities to crawling tours.That means we rarely have the opportunity to become dulled to the beauty that surrounds us each and every day at work.This also means we sometimes forget about how amazing some places are that we only get to see every few weeks.One of those amazing places is Slaughter Canyon Cave.
Slaughter Canyon Cave is an off-trail tour we give twice weekly.It begins at 8:30 am and lasts until early afternoon.After gathering the group, going over the rules, and passing out caving gear, we caravan to the cave.Anticipation builds the entire 45 minutes out to the cave trail.The next obstacle is the hike up to the cave entrance.It's only half a mile (0.8 km), but the trail climbs about 500 feet (152 m).That is one of the reasons we start the trip so early in the morning.No one wants to hike out in the open sun when the temperatures hover near 100⁰F (38⁰C).
After a quick snack and water break the tour finally gets to enter majestic Slaughter Canyon Cave.The opening into the cave isn't large, but the space inside is great.A slippery walkway with semi-formed steps leads visitors and rangers alike down into a darkly tinted wonderland.The trail winds and twists through natural and historic landscapes.At one stop rangers may point out some of the trash left in the cave from the time bat guano was mined commercially.There are light bulbs, electrical wiring, and even an oil can scattered in one area.From there tours drop even further down into a tunnel that was mined into the bat guano.The walls of guano tower over even the tallest person in the cave.The most current research debates the idea that this was mostly dirt with a little bit of bat guano mixed in.For years it has been believed that the guano was so old, most of the nutrients had leached out of it.
After a little history chat the tour climbs and descends through large rooms where headlamps only barely touch the blackness of the cave.Rangers point out one of the most interesting features in the entire cave: The Great Wall of China.It is a rimstone dam that is vertical.While rimstone dams are a common speleothem (cave formation), a vertical specimen as large as the Great Wall is not a sight often witnessed.The tour continues to the Christmas Tree Room.The Christmas Tree is one of the most well-known of all of Slaughter Canyon Cave's formation.It has graced many books and postcards and has even been featured in the movie "King Solomon's Mine."
The cave has so many formations and artifacts, they are impossible to view on one tour.Shields, bell canopies, magnesium flare handles, and other items can be spied from many places along the tour route.The looping walk back to the entrance still holds visitors and rangers enthralled with the details that can only a cave can form.
The walk back down the canyon to the parking area is bright and hot compared to being in the cave, but it only makes the tour more mystical. The dry rocks, chirping insects, and warm breezes are both a world and only a short distance away from the transcendent place known as Slaughter Canyon Cave.