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Carlsbad Caverns Wilderness

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A small bird sits amid spiney desert plants blooming with little yellow flowers.
Library image #3368: A roadrunner rambles among wildflowers, spiny desert plants, and limestone during a summer greened by good monsoon rains.

Introduction

The United States Congress designated the Carlsbad Caverns Wilderness (map) in 1978 and it now has a total of 33,125 acres. All of this wilderness is located in New Mexico and is managed by the National Park Service.

Description

With 116 documented caves including the world-famous Carlsbad Cavern and Lechuguilla Cave at over 125 miles in length, Carlsbad Caverns National Park deserves its international reputation. Approximately 250 million years ago, a reef grew on the edge of an ancient sea. Much later this area was raised up through mountain-building processes, and the limestones and dolomites in the now-uplifted reef fractured, allowing rainwater from above to begin the process of forming caves. At the same time, hydrogen sulfide from oil and gas deposits below the area began moving upward, intersecting the water table and forming a mild sulfuric acid that carved out the large rooms and passages we see today. As the mountain-building processes continued, the large rooms and passages eventually drained of water and elaborate speleothems or formations began to form in the caves.

The landscape above ground is just as rugged and dramatic, with steep, rocky ridges and craggy canyons. Elevations range from 3,600 feet to 6,350 feet. At the northern edge of the vast Chihuahuan Desert and western edge of the Great Plains, the park’s biodiversity is quite high. The species lists so far include at least 950 plants, 357 birds, 55 reptiles and amphibians, and 67 mammals. The mammals include a main attraction – an astounding colony of hundreds of thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats who live in the Cavern from spring through fall, emerging in a cloud at dusk for their nightly feeding. In fact, the park has documented 17 different species of bats using its various habitats.

Caves found within the wilderness areas of the park are managed as wilderness. Almost three-fourths of the park is designated wilderness. Trails provide foot access. The park has about 43 miles of hiking trails, of which about 25 miles are in wilderness. In addition, the 12-mile-long Guadalupe Ridge Trail (an abandoned dirt road) follows the edge of the wilderness to the northwest.

Planning to Visit the Carlsbad Caverns Wilderness?

Leave No Trace

Campfires are not allowed in Carlsbad Caverns Wilderness, or anywhere in the national park. Gas stoves are allowed when there are no fire restrictions.




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