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Carlsbad Caverns is the Perfect Vacation Destination
CARLSBAD, New Mexico - Carlsbad Caverns National Park has cave formations dripping, migratory bats returning and its Chihuahuan Desert landscape rebounding naturally after the 2011 wildfire.
With spring already beginning, the park is welcoming visitors who may be surprised by the remarkable recovery of 8,000 park acres left smoldering by the "Loop Fire," which briefly closed Carlsbad Caverns in June 2011. In less than two years, the park's ecosystem has sprouted fresh regrowth of natural vegetation that provides habitat for small animals and food for desert life. Although the fire charred only about 17 percent of the park's more than 46,000 acres, "it looks like a larger area burned because the fire was near the park road," said Carlsbad Caverns Superintendent John Benjamin.
"Periodic wildfire is an important natural element that can help sustain healthy ecosystems, including deserts like ours," Benjamin said. "Once a wildfire passes through, the land can rejuvenate itself naturally, even spectacularly. Come visit us and you can see the progress yourself."
For anyone who may have heard talk that the park's famous caverns may be "drying up" or that its vast colonies of migrating bats could be "dying off," Benjamin pronounced the rumors entirely untrue. Despite the severe drought across the Southwest, the caves' impressive speleothems (stalactites, stalagmites and other geologic formations) still continue to drip actively with groundwater. Over time, each mineral-laden drop of water adds to these formations before ending up in one or another of the caverns' beautiful pools.
This spring, the park expects again to see hundreds of thousands of Mexican Free-tailed bats as they begin to return from their wintering grounds in Mexico and South America. As in past years, they will establish a healthy and prolific summer colony, giving birth and nursing their young deep inside the cavern. Park biologists report that white-nose syndrome, the serious fungal condition that has killed large populations of hibernating bat species in the eastern U.S., has not affected the Mexican Free-tailed bats of Carlsbad Cavern in any way.
The best ways to experience these most famous of the park's summer residents are the annual "Bat Watch," which begins April 13 as smaller number of bats leave the cave and "Bat Flight," which begins in May after the colony settles in. We anticipate a summer filled with bats flying out of the cave in the evening on their nightly forage for insects.
Now and throughout the season, park visitors can walk down the 1.25-mile natural entrance to the cave or loop around the 1.25-mile walk inside the beautiful Big Room. In addition to self-guided tours, the park offers more adventure on ranger-led tours. These ticketed tours (ticket prices vary from $3.50-20.00) may take visitors to gaze at awe-inspiring formations in King's Palace, belly-crawl through tight openings in Hall of the White Giant, or walk down a rope-guided descent into Lower Cave. In every case, visitors shouldn't forget to bring their cameras to capture the caverns' many charms.
For more information on Carlsbad Caverns National Park, including hours, park entrance fees, programs and background on cavern geology, park nature, science and wildlife, and more, visit the park website at www.nps.gov/cave.
For more information about open hours, cave tours, and other activities, call 575-785-2232 or visit www.nps.gov/cave.