|Carlsbad Caverns, Day 2|
by Stormy on June 29, 2005
The Natural Entrance Route is a huge bore heading down into Carlsbad Caverns, all 750 feet of it, to the very bottom. Thankfully, it's not a straight drop.
In the morning I returned to Carlsbad Caverns to continue my scheduled tours. The first thing on the agenda was taking the Natural Entrance Route from the Bat Flight Auditorium down to the Big Room. There are a lot of warnings around that this route is not for the fainthearted. It's steep, it's long and there are really no spots stop for a break. That includes bathrooms and snack bars. If you want that, take care of it outside or wait until you reach the Big Room.
The mouth of the cave alone is an overwhelming view. Standing before it and looking up, you wonder what power is holding all of that up. There's big. There's huge. And there's unbelievable! This is the same opening that I sat in front of the evening before, watching bats taking flight. This morning the mouth of the cave was pretty busy with activity, too, but this time it was the day shift, consisting of swallows.
Thankfully the 750 foot descent isn't a straight down drop. It's a gradual descent to the bottom with what seemed like hundreds of switchbacks, taking the trail past thousands of amazing formations. I'd stop and look and realize that you need a full day just to walk this route. There's too much to see, too much to do.
Traffic coming into the cave by means of the Natural Entrance was fairly light this morning and I could take my time getting down, knowing that I still had another tour to get on at the bottom. It took me a little over an hour to make the mile or so hike, but that was easily eight or ten hours short of what it would take to truly appreciate the scenery.
My reward at the bottom were the lights of the cafeteria in the Underground Rest Area where I would meet my tour.
If you're healthy enough for a mile long hike down the Natural Entrance Route, it is an absolute must. Nowhere else in this cave, even in the Big Room, do you get the feel for how big the cave is like you do walking down this continuous entrance shaft into the cave. A few years ago some friends of mine asked a ranger if they could walk back up the Natural Entrance Route. The answer is never in the summer, but if you have a sense of adventure and want to do a serious elevation gain hike, you will be allowed to take on this challenge on slow off-season days. Remember, before the elevators were installed, this was the only way in and out of the cave!