May 11, 2010

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

From the Sacramento Mountains, we descended into the boring flatlands of the southern Great Plains. Eastern New Mexico is an arid scrubland. But, we were on our way to one of the worlds greatest cave sites, Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Located at the edge of the Guadalupe Mountains escarpment, this ancient Permian limestone landscape represents the remains of coral reefs and carbonate sediments dating back some 250 million years.

To enter the cave, you descend down a 1 mile winding walkway some 750 feet down. At the bottom, there are numerous interesting rock formations, including your classic stagtites, stalagmites, popcorn, lion's tails, cave bacon, and so many more.

Unlike most karst caves which form as rainwater containing weak carbonic acid eats into the limestone, here at Carlsbad Caverns, it was the presence of Hydrogen Sulfide gas deep underground. When mixed with water, it forms sulfuric acid which created the caves. Due to the arid environment, the caves formed much more slowly. But, there was a great deal more activity during the Ice Ages when the climate was wetter.

The "Lion's Tail"

The "popcorn" pattern is formed by condensation of dew on the end. The dew dissolves a little calcium carbonate, but then evaporates, leaving the little limestone droplets.

The "Whale's Mouth"

The cave without the flash

Soda Straws

Over 1 Million Mexican Free-tailed Bats emerge from the cavern every night.
It takes over 1 hour for all of them to emerge.

The Permian Basin Limestone Layers at Carlsbad Caverns

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