In 1898, when 16-year-old cowhand Jim White first entered what would become Carlsbad Caverns National Park, the Texas-born teen discovered another world.
Once part of a reef in an inland sea, Carlsbad Caverns has more than 119 limestone caves, including the Big Room, which is as large as six football fields. While its disputed whether White was the first Anglo to enter the caves, one thing is clear: this national park is stunning. And the good news is unlike White’s days where people were lowered into the caves in guano buckets, there are elevators and stairs to access the caves.
Use Carlsbad, N.M., just 18 miles away, as your base to explore Carlsbad Caverns, as well as Guadalupe Mountains National Park, 40 miles across the New Mexican/Texas border. Because of its mineral springs, the city was named after the the famous Karlsbad spa in Bohemia (now Czech Republic).
Today, frolic in the calm water of the Pecos River when you rent kayaks or stand-up paddleboards and paddle up and down this dammed waterway. Or realize your childhood dream of being a pirate and climb aboard The Flying Fiddler pirate boat. For something simpler, try a river cruise.
In a land known for its artists, Carlsbad is home to perhaps the state’s most unique artist. You’ll find her at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park. Bear Maggie Oso, who was near death before being rescued from a Georgia compound, paints with her paws in private one or so times per week, using non-toxic paints. Her pieces have been exhibited in Carlsbad and are sold in the park’s gift shop. In addition to Maggie, there are more than 40 species of animals and hundreds of species of plants native to the Chihuahuan Desert at the state park.
Learn more about Carlsbad at www.carlsbad.org.
Food and Fun in Carlsbad
Check out Carlsbad’s popular watering hole, Milton’s. It’s a brewery and tap room with indoor/outdoor seating. If you’re hungry, grab your meal at the window of one of the food trucks that pull up. www.miltonsbrewing.com
The Trinity Hotel
Built in 1892, this historic boutique hotel was recently renovated and features nine hotel rooms, in addition to a restaurant. Chef Luis has been nominated as Best Executive Chef in New Mexico. Along with a full-service coffee bar, enjoy free wine tasting from 4 -7 p.m. You'll sample the hotel’s own Seven Rivers varieties made in the Pecos Valley. www.thetrinityhotel.com
Housed in a yellow brick house built in 1928 by retailer Albert Hendricks, this downtown restaurant serves everything from prime rib to pasta. It’s super family friendly with a kids’ menu that includes classics like mac and cheese. www.yellowbrixrestaurant.com