Carlsbad Caverns National Park

History: How Carlsbad Caverns Was Formed

©2006 National Park Services The cave's interior rock formations are the result of mineral-laden water cutting through the rock.

The same Permian-age fossil reef that forms the Guadalupe Mountains also spawned the stunning caves of Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Over time, fractures in the ancient limestone sedimentation appeared, allowing mineral-laden water to cut through the rock and form the caverns.

The cave's stunning interior decoration is also the work of limestone-carrying water. Over the millennia, dripping water has built a nearly unbelievable array of formations. Some are six stories tall; others are as delicate as lace.

The History of Carlsbad Caverns: Inhabitants and Explorers

People have known about these spectacular caverns for thousands of years. According to archaeological evidence, nomadic hunters and gatherers used the cave's enormous mouth for shelter. Apparently, they did not penetrate far inside. Pictographs and cooking ring sites from American Indians have been found in the park.

Spanish explorers began passing through the area in the 1500s, which were held by Spain until the Mexican revolution succeeded in 1821. Two decades later, the U.S. acquired the southwest and in 1850 created the New Mexico Territory. The town known today as Carlsbad was established in 1888 as Eddy, New Mexico. Shortly after its turn-of-the-century discovery, miners began excavating the cave for its huge deposits of bat guano, which was shipped to southern California for use as a fertilizer in citrus groves. The state of New Mexico was inducted in 1912.

One enterprising miner, a young local man named James Larkin White, was so intrigued by the cave that he undertook a serious exploration of the labyrinthine caverns beyond Bat Cave. His passionate interest in the cave garnered the publicity that helped establish Carlsbad Caverns as a national monument in 1923 and a national park seven years later. White served as its chief ranger.

The underground marvels of Carlsbad Caverns awe hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. Whether you want to crawl through twisting tunnels or just take a comfortable stroll, there are some stunning sights to behold in the caves.

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