For an educational and fun outing for adults and children alike, a day trip to Carlsbad Caverns can fit the bill. The closest major airport is in El Paso, Texas which is a gateway to many Southwest attractions including White Sands, Valley of Fire, Three Rivers Petroglyphs, Lincoln County (Billy the Kid country), Roswell (aliens anyone?) and, of course, Carlsbad Caverns. The caverns are actually located closer to White City than Carlsbad, and if you decide to spend the night, which is a good idea, you might want to stay in White City instead of Carlsbad, which is 20 miles away.
Hours vary by season, so be sure to check before you go. Entrance fees are $10 for those over 16 and free to those under 16, and the ticket is good for three days. Please note that strollers and walking sticks are not permitted in the caverns, and since the temperature averages 56 degrees a light sweater or jacket is suggested.
There are two ways to access the caverns. You can walk down a steep 1 ¼ mile trail or take an elevator down. Either way will find you in the Big Room Trail area, in which portions are wheelchair accessible. The Big Room Trail is 1 ¼ mile and there are areas to provide shortcuts if needed. The trail is not strenuous if done slowly and time taken to read the descriptive placards. There are also options to rent audio equipment in adult or child variety, or reserve guided tours. We have always done the self-guided tour option and found this engaging for all.
Kids can participate in the Junior Ranger program which adds a lot of excitement and stealth education. Age appropriate activities and challenges fit in well with the self-guided tour, and after completed the new Junior Rangers are sworn in and receive a badge. If you and your crew are more adventurous there are also children focused tours that grow in difficulty along with age. Children 12 and up can find themselves in rather extreme caving conditions if they so wish (and if you can stand to go along as an adult must accompany those under 16).
After you are done with exploring, you return to the surface either by hiking back out (steep) or taking the elevator and find the snack bar, because you will be hungry. There is also an underground lunch room in the caverns if you just can’t wait. You will also find a pretty nifty gift shop with lots of batty goodies as well as plenty of local food and crafts.
If you are able to arrive between mid-May to mid-October, do not miss a Bat Flight. At sunset you will find yourself at an amphitheater awaiting the nightly exodus of thousands of Mexican free tailed bats heading out in search of food. The quiet night slowly grows to a thunderous roar as the black swarm fills the air. This is truly a magnificent experience. There is also an option to participate in a Bat Flight breakfast to see the bats rerun home. How does 4:30 am sound? No electronic devices are allowed to be used during the bat experience, including cameras.
Also available on select evenings are Night Sky events with rangers and telescopes present for further exploration opportunities at no extra charge.
A day or two at Carlsbad Caverns is good for all ages and group configurations without much cost, and is a must do during an American Southwest road trip. For further and more in depth information you may visit the official site at http://www.nps.gov/cave/index.htm
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Nancy Julian is a travel writing, trip planning expert. She has had a life-long love affair with travel, starting with childhood road trips and extending through service in the Air Force, a degree in Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management, professional work in that field, and finally to the creation of her own company, Magic Feather Memories. You can read more at Nancy's blog, http://magicfeathermemories.blogspot.com, and also drop by Mouse Tales travel at http://.mousetalestravel.com/.