National Geographic : 1924 Jan
VOL. XLV, No. 1 WASHINGTON JANUARY, 1924 A VISIT TO CARLSBAD CAVERN Recent Explorations of a Limestone Cave in the Guada lupe Mountains of New Mexico Reveal a Natural Wonder of the First Magnitude BY WILLIS T. LEE OCCASIONALLY a matter - of fact statement of a geographic discovery soundsincredible. Such was the case with Jim Bridger's first accounts of the Yellowstone's gey sers. The giant Redwoods of California would seem like a fairy-tale setting were a returning traveler to tell of their dimen sions for the first time. Only recently a brand-new type of phenomenon, the Val ley of Ten Thousand Smokes, Alaska, taxed comprehension until National Geo graphic photographs authenticated its prankish natural wonders. Now comes the announcement of a remarkable cavern among the eastern foothills of the Guadalupe Mountains, in southeastern New Mexico-the Carlsbad Cavern, so named for the little town about thirty miles to the northwest. The less scenic part has been known locally for many years as a bat cave and a source of guano. Recently explorers traversed several miles of its halls and chambers, and some parts of it were found to have such startling magnificence that, on October 25, 1923, by proclamation of President Coolidge, it was set aside as the Carlsbad National Monument. THE JOURNEY TO THE CAVERN On the 30-mile ride from Carlsbad to the cave, interest never flags. There is a varied display of prickly pears and melon cactus, and the scraggly leafless stalks of ocotillo. Spanish daggers, Spanish bay onets, and sotol plants (see illustration, page 28) are numerous. Century plants of several varieties are abundant, some forming beautiful rosettes which adorn the hillsides (see illustration, page 27), and others, known as lechuguilla, form mats of closely set spikes covering the surface. The cavern is reached over a road sadly in need of improvement. Like many of the roads in the sparsely settled Southwest, this one is kept passable by each vehicle following the tracks of the one that has gone before, until the ruts become too deep, when a new route is sought out among the rocks, through the thorny mesquite bushes and over the mats of prickly pear. Two hours of jolting into the ruts and out of them brings us to the foot of a steep, rocky slope from which every ves tige of soil has been washed away, leav ing a barren pavement of limestone. Here the laboring machines come to a halt, while their overheated engines cool, and the much-shaken passengers stretch their cramped limbs and test the strength of the spines that cover a large melon cactus at the side of the road where we alight. WII H 124. BY NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSOCIETY.WASHINGTON.D C. IN THE UNITED STATES ANDGREAT BRITAIN S'