October 28 – 29, 2018.
“We know exactly how old these are”, said the ranger as we went through the entrance into the King’s Palace in Carlsbad Caverns. “This entrance was blown open using dynamite in 1932. These stalactites started growing then.” He pointed to the ceiling of the entrance, where small stone nipples, none longer than 1/2 inch had been forming by the slow drip of water for 86 years. Inside the rest of the cavern, the stalactites are up to 500,000 years old.
There has never been a better time to be in this spot. It may have been pleasant 265 million years ago when this was part of a 400-mile sponge and algae reef on the edge of the Permian Sea. But since it was compressed into limestone, everything happened in total darkness. It was dark as the rock shifted northward and upward. Dark as it was covered by other sediment. Dark as the Guadalupe mountain range was pushed up. Dark as cavities in the stone filled with air and rising hydrogen sulfide gas, which became the sulfuric acid that ate away huge chambers in the rock. And dark as water seeped through the cave ceiling sculpting the formations found here now.
Young 3rd grade dropout Jim White brought light here for the first time, using a homemade lantern, in 1901. His zeal for the cavern finally brought national attention. Carlsbad was declared a National Monument in 1923. Congress made it a National Park in 1930. Today there are well-lit trails and an elevator. Visit Carlsbad. There’s never been a better time.
* Click on pics to enlarge and open into a slide show.