Carlsbad Caverns has 2 self-guided tours where you walk at your own pace and listen to a hand held wand and 6 Ranger led tours that go to other parts of the cavern that are either more fragile or more extreme than the self-guided tours. The 2 self-guides tours do not require reservations and are pretty much like any other nature hike except you are underground. http://www.nps.gov/cave/planyourvisit/cave_tours.htm
The 6 ranger led hikes vary from the Kings Palace tour which takes 75 people and depending on the season is done 2 to 4 times per day, to the Spider Cave Tour which only takes 10 people and is held once a week. The Spider Cave Tour has the following statements on the web page “Participants will hike a half mile down beautiful Garden Grove Canyon to get to the cave, where excessive crawling and climbing will ensue. Highlights of this tour include the Mace Room, Medusa Room, and Cactus Spring, as well as a stunning variety of cave formations and dirty cave crawls. This trip is not recommended for anyone with a fear of enclosed spaces, heights, or getting a little cave dirt in your ears.” and “Hiking boots or other sturdy shoes, 4 AA batteries, soft knee pads, cotton or leather gloves, long pants and water for the hike are also required. (The park provides hardhats and headlamps.)”
Here is a group we past beginning the Lower Cave Tour. The web site for the Lower Cave Tour includes this statement “Ladders at the entrance to Lower Cave sometimes cause participants to back out. If you have a fear of heights or difficulties with ladders, you may wish to consider visiting Left Hand Tunnel instead.” Note the rope the Ranger is holding; this is the rope used to get down to the ladders. They use this rope to lower themselves down to a passage at the beginning of the tour and then use the same rope to pull themselves back up the slope when they get back.
All of the Ranger lead tours require reservations and some of them are booked up months in advance. Since we came here on a spur of the moment decision and didn’t know what tours we might take and we didn’t get advanced reservations. However due to the Easter holiday we were able to get 2 spots on the Sunday afternoon Kings Palace tour with only three days notice. The drive from the KOA to the caverns is an 80 mile round trip but, it was a chance to see more of the cave. The web site for the Kings Palace tour states “You will descend to the deepest portion of the cavern open to the public, 830 feet beneath the desert surface.” and “Look forward to viewing a variety of cave formations including helictites, draperies, columns, and soda straws. Rangers frequently conduct black-outs during this tour, briefly turning off all artificial lights to reveal the natural darkness of the cave.” The Kings Palace tour was too crowded and the ranger talk was just a repetition of what we had heard on the wands a few days earlier but, the rooms and formations were even more spectacular than we had seen previously.
Since there are no more tours that have openings until next month we are planning to move on, but we will be back and will plan ahead next time.
These are some of the pictures that Kathy took on the Kings Palace tour. The pictures will enlarge if you click on them.