Faces In Carlsbad Cavern

CarolM

San Bernardino, United States

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Photographed with my Canon D40 at Carlsbad Caverns on a recent road trip. I was drawn to this unusual formation that looks like two people.

Underground worlds of mystery and grandeur, caves are labyrinths of passageways and streams, homes to unusual creatures and stunning formations. One of the world’s most spectacular caves is Carlsbad Caverns in southeastern New Mexico. Carlsbad is known for its large rooms and bat colonies. Carlsbad also has a large colony of birds called cave swallows.

Magnificent speleothems (cave formations) grow and decorate Carlsbad Cavern, The form as a result of rain and snowmelt soaking through limestone rock, then eventually dripping into and evaporating in a cave below. Those water drops have absorbed gasses and dissolved minerals from the soil and limestone above. Wherever that water drop evaporates and releases carbon dioxide in an air-filled cave, a small amount of mineral-mostly calcite, is left behind. Thus, drip-by-drip, over the past million years or so, Carlsbad Cavern has slowly been decorating itself.

The slowest drips tend to stay on the ceiling long enough to deposit their mineral there. Common speleothems found on the ceiling may be stalactites, soda straws, draperies, ribbons or curtains. The faster the dripping, the more likely it is to make some type of decoration on the floor. A wide range of decorations on the cave floor include totem poles, flowstone, rim stone dams, lily pads, shelves, cave pools, and of course stalagmites.

Today, few speleothems inside any Guadalupe Mountains caves are wet and actively growing. This is a direct result of the dry desert climate. Most speleothems inside Carlsbad Cavern would have been much more active during the last ice age—up to around 10,000 years ago-when the Guadalupe Mountains received a great deal more rainfall than what today’s desert climate receives.

For the time being, Carlsbad Cavern is not dead or alive—it’s just, for the most part, inactive. A climate change above would certainly affect how fast or slow speleothems grow below. The dripping heard today inside the cavern is but a fading echo of what would have been heard during wetter times long ago.

The limestone rock that holds Carlsbad Cavern is full of ocean fossil plants and animals from a time before the dinosaurs when the southeastern corner of New Mexico was a coastline similar to the Florida Keys. (Info from the internet)

Artwork Comments

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  • © Pauline Wherrell
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