CARLSBAD, N.M. (KRQE) – Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico is celebrating its 100th anniversary as a national park on Oct. 25, 2023. To this day, the park’s history is still being written, and the “spirit of exploration is very much alive,” said Anthony Mazzucco, Carlsbad Caverns National Park acting supervisory park ranger.
The history of Carlsbad Caverns goes back thousands of years, as Native Americans lived in the Guadalupe Mountains. Some of their cooking ring sites and pictographs have been found within the present-day boundaries of the park, according to the National Park Service (NPS).
Carlsbad Caverns National Park preserves Carlsbad Cavern, the largest cave chamber in North America. “The park is more than just one cave; there are well over 100 separate caves and about 47,000 acres of surface desert ecosystem,” said Mazzucco. The NPS said the caves formed over the last 20 million years as sulfuric acid dissolved the surrounding limestone of an ancient reef.
Signed into law by President Calvin Coolidge in 1923, the park was set aside to protect its “extraordinary proportions and of unusual beauty and variety of natural decoration.” The first credited cave exploration was in 1898 by 16-year-old Jim White.
While many have braved the dark depths of the caverns, one iconic explorer was Amelia Earhart. In September 1928, the park’s superintendent, Thomas Boles, gave Earhart a chance to explore the Lower Cave on her own with a lantern in hand. According to the NPS, Earhart also accepted an invitation to become a member of the exploration party. Earhart did not return to the park, and years later, she disappeared while flying across the Pacific Ocean in 1937.
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Mazzucco said he enjoys telling guests on tours about Earhart’s and Walt Disney’s visits to the caves. “He [Walt Disney] was much more confined to the tourist route that modern visitors take on the paved trail in the Big Room. And that was enough for him,” Mazzucco added.
Given the park’s large area, to this day, there is still more to be explored below the surface. “The last major discovery inside of Carlsbad Caverns was a team of five female park rangers in 2018 who discovered a brand new room with some twisty chambers well over 1000 feet beneath the surface,” Mazzucco explained. The room was determined to be the second-deepest room inside Carlsbad Cavern.
Mazzucco said Lechuguilla Cave, in the park’s backcountry, is still being explored. “It [the cave] still has no end in sight, and exploration is still a fruitful project for those with the skill set and research permits,” he said. Lechuguilla Cave is the deepest in the United States, according to the NPS.
While discussing the future of the caverns, Mazzucco said that they are trying to bring back off-trail adventure tours in the Lower Cave area, in the Hall of the White Giant, and in Slaughter Canyon Cave.
Special activities planned for the 100-year anniversary of Carlsbad Caverns include a scavenger hunt, guided tours including walking with a ranger to turn on the caverns’ lights, a geology walk, vertical caving demonstrations, a reception with cake and more. To see events planned on Oct. 25 at the park, click here. Reservations to see the caverns can be made here.