2016 47¢ National Parks Centennial Carlsbad Caverns Stamp
US #5080o was part of the 2016 National Parks Centennial issue.

On May 14, 1930, Carlsbad Caverns National Park was officially created in New Mexico.  The park is home to the largest limestone chamber in North America, known as the Big Room.

At the base of the Guadalupe Mountains, hidden beneath southeastern New Mexico’s Chihuahuan Desert, are the extensive Carlsbad Caverns.  About 250 million years ago, the area around the present-day part was the coast of an inland sea filled with marine life.  Over time the water evaporated, and the reef was covered with mineral deposits and other sediments.  Movement in the tectonic plates lifted the reef above ground and water and erosion carved the mountain region we see today.

2002 23¢ Carlsbad Caverns Colorano Silk Cachet Postal Card
US #UX381 – 2002 Carlsbad Caverns Colorano Silk Cachet Postal Card

The area sat on a bed of limestone above petroleum.  Over time, hydrogen sulfide made its way up from the petroleum into the groundwater, creating sulfuric acid.  This highly corrosive acid dissolved large areas of limestone to carve out the 119 known underground caves and passages that stretch over 120 miles.

Over time, the acidic groundwater drained out of the caverns and mineral deposits began to form.  Sometime in the last million years, the erosion above ground created a natural opening to the caverns.  Air from the surface entered the caverns along with rain and snowmelt that seeped through the ground.  As this water dripped from the cavern ceiling and evaporated, it left behind small calcium carbonate deposits.  The deposits on the ceiling are know as stalactites, while those that formed on the ground are called stalagmites.  These mineral deposits are known as speleothems and take on different formations including columns, soda straws (hollow tubes), draperies (thin, wavy sheets), helictites (curved or angular shape), and popcorn (small round nodes).

2002 23¢ Carlsbad Caverns Fleetwood First Day Postal Card
US #UX381 – 2002 Carlsbad Caverns Fleetwood First Day Postal Card

These delicate mineral formations grew slowly over time.  Then in 1898, teenager Jim White discovered the opening to the caverns when a swarm of bats emerged, blackening the sky.  “Any hole in the ground which could house such a gigantic army of bats must be a whale of a big cave,” he thought.  He returned to the pitch-black hole a few days later and went inside to explore.  More adventures followed and White named many of the rooms and formations.  Eventually White was leading tours of the caves he had discovered and named.

2002 23¢ Carlsbad Caverns Paid Reply Postal Card
US #UY44 – 2002 Carlsbad Caverns Paid Reply Postal Card

In 1915, White gave a photographer a tour of the caves.  His photos general interest in the caves and were eventually featured in the New York Times in 1923.  Shortly after, a representative from the General Land Office visited the caves with White and the photographer and surveyed and mapped the area.  They recommended the creation of a national monument.  Within six months, the site was declared a national monument by President Calvin Coolidge.  In his proclamation on October 25, 1923, Coolidge stated that the cave was “of extraordinary proportions and of unusual beauty” and that its large number of chambers and formations made it “equal, if not superior, in both scientific and popular interest to the better known caves.”

2002 37¢ American Bats
US #3661-64 – The park is home to 17 species of bats and hosts daily bat flight viewings, allowing visitors to watch bats exit the caves in the evening and return in the morning.

During the early years of the monument, stairs were installed for easier access and electric lights illuminated the caves starting in 1926.  Tourist amenities were added as visitors began coming to see the fascinating labyrinth of underground rooms.  Then on May 14, 1930, the caves, along with 46,000-plus acres of desert above, were permanently established as Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  Within a year, the National Park Service began drilling to create an elevator shaft.  By 1937, the park recorded its one-millionth visitor.

1963 8¢ Amelia Earhart
US #C68 – Earhart worked as a cave guide in 1928.

In 1959, the Kings Palace and Boneyard rooms served as filming locations for the film Journey to the Center of the Earth. And in 1963, the park created a bat flight amphitheater at the natural entrance for visitors to watch the bats.  In 1995, the park was declared a World Heritage Site.

Find photos and more on the park’s website.

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  1. We had as part of a bible study a strong study on how old our planet is based on biblical facts and research. We are NOT millions of years old. We are approximately 8 thousand years old, give or take a few hundred years! So anything that states that we are gets little to no stars from me. Sorry but I don’t agree with the “year”facts of your article.

    1. Tom, as you say, your opinion about the age of the earth is based on “biblical” facts. As I’m sure you know, the Jewish and Christian bible was written thousands of years ago, long before the scientific revolution. Next, somebody will post that the earth isn’t a globe, it’s flat, or that at one time, the whole earth was covered with water…an impossibility. Honor your religion, but let’s stick with science.

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