Entrance to Carlsbad Caverns

January 13, 2011

CarlsbadCaverns2008 
Photographer: Tommy Hornbeck
Summary Author: Tommy Hornbeck

The photo inset above (upper left) shows the natural entrance to Carlsbad Caverns that leads by switchbacks into the mouth of the cave. The larger photo was snapped at the same place but looking in the opposite direction. Look closely at center-top to see the trail descending into the cave. One of the most remarkable things about entering the cave is how rapidly our eyes adapt to the different colors of the artificial lighting in the cave. From the top, the cave appears perfectly normal, but in the few minutes that it takes to reach the point where the cave trail doubles back upon itself our eyes adapt to the tungsten light. Therefore, as we turn back toward the entrance, it has seemingly turned bright blue.

Early Native Americans first entered what is now called Carlsbad Caverns thousands of years ago. They left behind drawings on the walls near their entrance. In the 1800s, the caves were rediscovered by settlers who investigated when they noticed countless bats flying out of the cave at sunset. One of these settlers, Jim White, fell in love with the cave and spent the rest of his life exploring its seemingly endless tunnels and rooms. In 1923 Robert Holley, a mineralogist with the General Land Office, was sent to examine claims about the extent and majesty of the caverns near Carlsbad, in southeastern New Mexico. Though Holley did not initially believe the fantastic claims he had heard about the caverns, after spending a month surveying the site, he became a convert and included this comment in his final report “...I am wholly conscious of the feebleness of my efforts to convey in the deep conflicting emotions, the feeling of fear and awe, and the desire for an inspired understanding of the Divine Creator's work which presents to the human eye such a complex aggregate of the natural wonders....” Photo taken on May 21, 2008. See also yesterday's Earth Science Picture of the Day.

Photo details: Nikon D80 camera; Main Image - F11; 30 second exposure; ISO 200, 32mm lens. Inset - F11; 0.5 second exposure; ISO 200; 18mm lens.