The national park is located in an extensive karst landscape in the state of New Mexico. It is best known for its huge stalactite caves. The Carlsbad Cave itself has one of the largest underground spaces in the world. The caves are a picture book of millions of years of geological development and the habitat of 1 million bats.
Karlovy Vary Caves: facts
|Official title:||Carlsbad Caverns National Park|
|Natural monument:||Karst landscape with 81 known caves so far; National Park with an area of 189.26 km²; a segment of a Permian fossil reef of the Delaware Basin; within the 610 m mighty former reef pronounced cave formation due to sulfuric acid, such as the 477 m deep and 133 km long Lechuguilla Cave; Fossil finds, including of echinoderms and bog animals as well as trilobites|
|Continent:||North America; See topmbadirectory|
|Country:||USA, New Mexico|
|Location:||in southwest Eddy County, northeast of El Paso and southeast of Albuquerque|
|Meaning:||an underground laboratory for researching geological processes|
|Flora and fauna:||around 800 plant species such as the pine species Pinus edulis and the juniper species Juniperus deppeana, as well as the orchid species Epipactis gigantea, the cactus species Epithelantha micromeris and Echinocereus lloydii, and the cactus species Selaginella pilifera; 64 mammal species, including 18 bat species such as guano bat, black-footed octopus, mainland gray fox, coyote and bobcat; 331 species of birds including golden eagle, cave tern, American eagle owl, lousiana shrike and turkey vulture|
Stalactite caves and bats
The land at the foot of the Guadalupe Mountains near the city of Carlsbad appears parched, almost lifeless. From a botanical point of view, the area belongs to the Chihuahua Desert, one of the four great arid regions of western North America. Together with yuccas and prickly pear cacti, plant species such as sotol, lechuguilla agave and ocotillo determine the vegetation. The Spanish origin of their names reveals that the Chihuahua Desert extends south into Mexico.
Especially in summer it gets murderously hot here during the day and the wildlife falls into heat sleep. Occasional turkey vultures circling in the sky, and a long-legged cuckoo suddenly crosses the road – otherwise hardly anything moves. Coyotes, kangaroo rats and Audubon rabbits, even the warmth-loving rattlesnakes only become active at dusk. This is probably how the nomadic Mescalero Apaches who once roamed the area did. However, if you turn to the “underworld” of the national park, heat and drought no longer play a role. One of the most widely branched cave systems in the USA extends here. Over 80 caves have already been discovered and many are still waiting to be explored. Some of them know how to impress with their huge dimensions: This is just the so-called »Big Room«.
Perhaps even more impressive than these breathtaking dimensions is the variety of stalactite formations that adorn all accessible caves. In these underground “treasure chambers” the visitor feels transported to a fairy-tale land. Giant stalactites grow against equally mighty stalagmites, bars, fans and curtains adorn the walls, and stone waterfalls tumble from the ceilings.
The history of these karst caves began with the uplift and exposure of the Guadalupe Mountains. Over 200 million years old, this mountain range consists of the calcareous shells and skeletons of countless organisms that once lived here in a shallow primeval sea. As soon as the first parts of the fossil reef were exposed, rainwater penetrated into cracks and crevices. The natural acidity of the water dissolved the lime, creating cavities. Initially filled with water, they gradually fell dry as the uplift continued. From then on, the constantly seeping water adorned the caves. Every drop deposited its chalky load in the form of microscopic crystals. Over the course of millions of years, all of the magical “drip” stones emerged from this.
But the labyrinth is fascinating for another reason as well: it offers living space for entire host of bats! About a million animals may find shelter in a cave that is closed to visitors, the Bat Cave. Here they provide for offspring, sleep through the day and leave behind thick layers of feces. This valuable natural fertilizer was mined on a large scale around the turn of the century. But today there is calm. Every evening between April and October, numerous curious people gather at the cave entrance to experience the bats’ excursion – a spectacle that is unique in the world.
It happens as if on command. A hum can be heard from the depths, swells more and more – and then they appear – 5,000 to 10,000 animals per minute. A never-ending stream of small bodies spirals into the evening sky. The guano bats, which weigh only 14 grams, are now moving towards the Pecos River in elongated “clouds”. There they hunt for insects, of which they capture one to two tons per night. They only return at dawn. Incidentally, these amazing tiny creatures spend the winter months in warm Mexico.