Carlsbad Caverns turned out to be my most challenging experience this trip, even more so than swimming with sharks!
Visitors can select a self-guided tour or ranger-led tours. With self-guided tours, one can elect to take the elevator down to the Great Room, 750 feet below the earth's surface; or one can enter the caverns through the "Natural Entrance" and then walk the 1.5 miles to the Great Room. I chose the self-guided tour so I could go at my own pace. And I chose the "Natural Entrance" because it was all "downhill," and I didn't want to miss anything. Hellsfire, I may be out of shape, but I can handle "downhill." Riiiiiight!
This is the topside of the caverns, on the edge of Chihuahuan Desert in the Guadalupe Mountains, and a portion of administrative buildings built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
The "Natural Entrance" is through the amphitheater where bat fans observe the daily fly-out spectacle of the famous Mexican Free-Tailed Bats -- if they happen to be in residence. But they weren't when I visited; they had already left for warmer climes in October. Drat!
What a a precious, unique gem these caverns are. The other-worldliness here is mesmerizing at every turn. So hang fast to the hand rails and join me along the trunk passage called the Main Corridor, and wonder at the mind-blowing formations of draperies, columns and soda straws, of domes, ponds and grottoes.
Snivel Alert: I stopped counting at 47 hairpins on the trail (there were probably three HUNDRED forty-seven hairpins by the time I finished! And no one said anything about 20% grades in the descent -- until it was all behind me! With all the warnings about the fitness of one's knees, there being no bathrooms along the way and all the usual "No's (eating, smoking, strollers, throwing coins into water features, pets, defacing, etc), there was no signage whatsoever that flashlights or water should be included in your day pack. ("Yes, the trail is lit." Nothing about how dim and occasional that lighting is, or how humid it is deep in the center of the earth!) But yours truly, not at all reticent about certain omissions, especially where "old people" are involved, cheerfully filled out the Suggestion/Comment Sheet and recommended that adding a few "DO's" to the signage might improve one's experience!