Underground Adventure

As the name implies, this adventure is not for the faint of heart -- it’s a true workout.

Slaughter canyon

Slaughter Canyon Cave, Carlsbad

New Mexico offers a variety of diverse terrains, and Slaughter Canyon Cave is no exception. It's a real underground adventure. Only ranger-guided tours of Slaughter Canyon are available, and the expedition takes five and a half hours. Children 8-years-old and younger are not allowed in the cave. Families with older children that are interested will meet at the visitor center of Carlsbad Caverns National Park and caravan out to Slaughter Canyon Cave.

Beware — families must first hike up a 10–15 percent grade terrain that has loose rocks. It takes about 30 minutes to complete this part of the trip, and remember, temperatures can reach 100 degrees outside in the summer. There is a rustic bathroom at the trail head, but no bathroom facilities in the cave.

There are paved walkways to make traveling beneath the earth a bit easier than above, and flashlights and headlights give the cave some light to view the spectacular formations such as the nearly 90-foot high Monarch — one of the world's tallest columns. Other fun highlights of the trip are the Christmas Tree, a crystal-decorated column that truly sparkles, and the Chinese Wall, a small rimstone dam.

For families who would enjoy a bit more relaxed exploration of Mother Nature, the rest of the national park has lots of caves. These caves were formed when sulfuric acid dissolved the surrounding limestone, and there are over 117 documented caves in this region.

The caves are dark, so beware with small children who can be spooked easily, and children 3-years-old and younger are not allowed on the ranger-guided tours of the caves. Keep in mind that strollers are not allowed in caves, so bring the baby Bjorn or backpack to head out under the ground for your adventure.

Don't be spooked by one of the cave's most popular inhabitants — bats! And we're talking bats galore. According to park officials, nearly 400,000 Mexican free-tail bats make Carlsbad Caverns their home each summer. But there are also 16 other species of bats that call this region home as well, so watch the night sky. However, the bats' nightly mission of consuming several tons of bugs sure does make for fewer mosquito bites.

One more item to think about — white-nose syndrome is passed from humans to bats through spores on clothing. The ticket collectors at the visitor center will ask visitors questions about recent travels and will help them eliminate the potential of spreading this deadly disease (only to bats) by cleaning camera equipment or removing certain articles of clothing.

More about the Slaughter Canyon Cave

Location: 727 Carlsbad Cavern Highway, Carlsbad, New Mexico 88220

Phone: 575.785.2232

Fees: $8 per ticket for children and $15 for adults 16 years of age and older. Tickets are good for three days. Ranger-guided tours vary in price; please make reservations in advance.

Website: www.nps.gov

Image courtesy of Peter Jones

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