750 Feet Under Ground

I knew Carlsbad Caverns well from looking at the old View Masters, as I wrote yesterday.  Their photos were/are better than mine.  They made the place look familiar.  The same was true when I first saw the Grand Canyon and Yosemite.  The good thing about the View Master was that we didn’t have very many slides and there was not as much competition from other things to watch or do.  I watched them over and over so I got to know all the pictures very well.

Nothing has changed in the Caverns since the View Master took the pictures fifty years ago.   Nothing much has changed for thousands or maybe millions of years.  Change is slow down here, 750 feet below the surface.  Water drips slowly and makes the rock formations you see in the pictures.  The little lumps on the formations are called “popcorn.”  They are formed by moisture from the air, which carries enough mineral that – with the many millennia – rock forms.  The rock down here is mostly limestone, the remains of the ancient sea I talked about in the previous post.

Unlike most caves, Carlsbad Caverns was not formed by flowing water like a stream.   Instead, water drained slowly from the caverns when the climate was wetter.  The “decorations” were created by the slow dripping.  The water carries carbonic acid, the same stuff in Coca-Cola.  It is a very weak acid, but it is enough to dissolve stone over long time.

The ranger explained all the above.  Carlsbad is not the biggest cavern in the U.S. but it is among the most interesting because of its unique characteristics or not being formed by flowing streams. This gives it lots of big and little rooms.  Caves formed by flowing streams usually are smoother and more uniform in the size of the rooms or chambers.  

They turned off all the lights during the program to show what a cave looks like in its normal state.  There is no way your eyes can adjust to zero light and all the wonders in stone are invisible.  In a very obvious way the cave we see is created by light we bring.  Someone asked about using color lights.  That may seen a little Disney-like, but the whole thing is a artistic creation of the light. The placement of the lights creates the reality.   The “natural” condition is pitch blackness.

There is no way I can get my brain around those millions of years and minute changes that lead to big things.  I noticed drops of water on the ends of some of the stalactites.  They weren’t dripping off and I don’t think they were going to drip off any time soon.  It will set there forming new rock formations.

Above is one of the formations. Chrissy said it looked like Gaudi architecture in Barcelona.  Below is the “lake” in the cave.  It is about the size of a jacuzzi.  It took thousands of years to fill to that depth.This is the place I remember best from the View Master. Something about the clear water stuck in my memory. The stone waterfall also makes an impression.