to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Bob Doughty.
Barbara Klein. This week on our program, we explore a UNESCO World Heritage
Site in the American Southwest, near the city of Carlsbad, New Mexico. Carlsbad
Caverns National Park contains more than one hundred caves below the surface of
the desert. Most are closed to the public. But anyone can visit the main
attraction, one of the largest caves in the world.
Incredible. Inspiring. Words like these come to mind as visitors enter a world
of silence, darkness and cold, almost two hundred thirty meters under the
elevator lowers you into the world of Carlsbad Cavern, the big cave at Carlsbad
Caverns National Park. Silent, except for the voices of guides and visitors. And
not completely dark. The National Park Service has enough lighting to see many
of the beautiful formations all around. The temperature is about thirteen
is a large cave. But Carlsbad Cavern is really a long series of chambers. One
of these is called the Big Room. The Big Room is more than three hectares big.
The ceiling is seventy-seven meters high. The Big Room is the single largest
underground chamber ever found in North America.
Room and other parts of the cavern contain huge, sharp formations of minerals.
People are free to explore the lit formations in the Big Room. But park rangers
must guide visitors to other areas of the cave.
hang from the ceiling. Stalagmites rise from the floor. Some even meet to
create a column. Other formations look like needles, popcorn, pearls and
A visitor still remembers the memory aid she learned long
ago from her fifth-grade teacher. Stalactites have to hang on tight to
the ceiling or they might fall off. And be careful about stalagmites -- you might
trip over one on the floor.
the first questions that visitors have is how did Carlsbad Cavern form? Guides
explain that it did not result from the action of water and streams like other
limestone caves. Instead, it was created by the action of sulfuric acid.
limestone developed about two hundred fifty million years ago. Then, within the
last twenty million years, movements in the earth pushed the rock upward,
forming the Guadalupe Mountains. Today these mountains extend from west Texas
into southeast New Mexico.
action of oil and natural gas created hydrogen sulfide in the limestone. The
hydrogen sulfide reacted with oxygen in rainwater moving through the rock.
Sulfuric acid developed. The acid created the caves by dissolving the limestone
in its path.
the water and most of the acid left the caves as the Guadalupe Mountains
continued to rise. This permitted freshwater to move through. The freshwater
left behind minerals. These minerals became the formations and shapes on the
ceilings, walls and floors of the caves.
are not the only ones who visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park. About four
hundred thousand Mexican free-tailed bats come to the big cave from Mexico each
summer to give birth.
evening, as the sun goes down, thousands of adult bats fly out of the natural
entrance of the cave. It can take from twenty minutes to more than two hours
for them all to leave. The bats fly to nearby river valleys to feed on
night-flying insects. Then, toward morning, they return to the bat cave within
Service rangers explain that mother bats find their babies by remembering their
location, their smell and the sound of their cry. Mothers and pups hang in
groups on the ceiling. They spend the day resting and feeding.
the adults go out at night for food, the young bats hang out in the cave for
four or five weeks. Then, in July or August, they join their mothers on these
in late October or early November, the bats all leave and return to Mexico. But
they always return the next year.
easy to imagine that it was the bats that led ancient people to discover the
cave. Archeologists and others have found evidence of Ice Age hunters near the
cave entrance. They have also found pieces of spear points left about ten
thousand years ago.
recently, Apache Indians painted pictures at the entrance. And evidence of one
of their cooking areas was found beside a nearby path.
nineteen hundred, a teenage cowboy named James Larkin White began to explore
White told his story in the nineteen thirty-two book "The Discovery and
History of Carlsbad Caverns." Here is a reading of his description of his
first sight of the bats and the big cave:
thought it was a volcano, but then, I'd never seen a volcano -- nor never
before had I seen bats swarm, for that matter. During my life on the range I'd
seen plenty of prairie whirlwinds -- but this thing didn't move; it remained in
one spot, spinning its way upward. I watched it for perhaps a half-hour --
until my curiosity got the better of me. Then I began investigating …
worked my way through the rocks and brush until I found myself gazing into the
biggest and blackest hole I had ever seen, out of which the bats seemed
literally to boil …
more I thought of it the more I realized that any hole in the ground that could
house such a gigantic army of bats must be a whale of a big cave … I crept
between cactus until I lay on the brink of the chasm, and looked down. During
all the years I'd know of the place, I'd never taken the trouble to do this.
There was no bottom in sight! I shall never forget the feeling of aweness it
White told how he built a ladder from rope, wire and sticks and returned to the
entrance of the cave a few days later.
found myself climbing down, down, deeper and deeper into the blackness ... At
last my feet touched something solid. I lighted my lantern, and found that I
was perched on a narrow ledge, almost at the end of my rope -- literally and
now I could see into the tunnel -- it wasn't much farther down to the floor of
it, and that floor looked smooth and level. I decided that with a little exhibition
of human-fly stuff, I could hold onto the rough wall and go down another twenty
feet to level territory.
at the entrance of the tunnel I could see ahead of me a darkness so absolutely
black it seemed a solid. The light of my lantern was but a sickly glow.
Nevertheless, I forged ahead, and with each step the tunnel grew larger, and I
felt as though I was wandering into the very core of the Guadalupe
years later, a settler named Abijah Long also found the entrance and went into
the cavern. He found huge amounts of bat droppings. Abijah Long hired local
workers to mine the guano which he sold to farmers as fertilizer. At the same
time, he explored much of the caves. Some people might even say Abijah Long was
the first real explorer of Carlsbad Cavern.
White made it his life's work to make sure the public would see and enjoy the
cavern. He worked on Abijah Long's mining operation for twenty years.
authors of the book "Carlsbad Cavern: The Early Years" say Jim White
took the job for the chance to keep exploring the cave. And after the mining
operation closed, he started building paths in the cavern. Yet once he had
enough paths built to welcome visitors, no one seemed interested in his
nineteen eighteen, Jim White took a professional photographer into the cave.
Ray Davis' pictures of the Big Room appeared in the New York Times. National
interest began to grow.
nineteen twenty-three, scientists from the National Geographic Society explored
the caves. The following year, President Calvin Coolidge named Carlsbad a
national monument. Presidents can declare national monuments, but Congress must
act to establish a national park. And that is what Congress did in nineteen
then, parts of Carlsbad Caverns have been used for movie sets, weddings, even
meetings of the Carlsbad City Council.
official Marie Merrick says more than four hundred thousand people visited
Carlsbad Caverns in two thousand seven. Most visitors go to the main cavern.
But some experienced cavers are permitted to explore five "wild"
caves in the park. And in another one, scientists are studying microbes in
search of a cure for cancer.
Jim White, he became chief ranger of Carlsbad Caverns. In his story in the book
"The Discovery and History of Carlsbad Caverns," he talks about all
the work that was done.
doubt if you can understand how happy this modernizing has made me. It's like
the pleasant end to a dream."
program was written by Nancy Steinbach and produced by Dana Demange. I'm Bob
Barbara Klein. Doug Johnson was our reader. You can discover pictures of the
big cave at Carlsbad Caverns, along with transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our
programs, at voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA
in VOA Special English.