There were several things I wish we had known about Carlsbad New Mexico and seeing Carlsbad Caverns and Guadaloupe Mountains National Parks. First, although one is in Texas and the other in New Mexico, they are literally right across the border from each other, so it’s relatively easy to see both (plus Sitting Bull Falls) from the same campsite.
We didn’t give much planning to our visit to Carlsbad which turned out to be a big mistake – we just wanted to see the cave and make a quick stop/look around in Guadaloupe Mountains National Park.
As with so many things on our first sojourn as Winter Snowbirds, we would have benefitted from some advance planning as we didn’t get to take any of the cave tours we really wanted, but se la vie.
- To take the best tours at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, you MUST reserve ahead of time… like several weeks or more ahead of time during the month of March/April (spring break impacts the cave despite the fact that the bats haven’t returned yet).
- If you hope to see the highly touted Bat Flight Program at Carlsbad, it officially starts Memorial Day weekend and ends in October. The bats migrate and there are very few bats at other times. We were there in April, and although there was no program, the rangers recommended waiting in the amphitheater outside the natural entrance to see them emerge at sunset. Unfortunately sunset was at 7:30 and last light at 7:50 … and our self-guided tour finished at 2 PM. Since we had already explored the visitor center and other things to do, we didn’t really want to hang out until 7:30 and it was an hour drive back to the KOA. So we didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to see the few bats that returned early from their winter migration. A disappointment.
- The only top rated RV park on RV Park Reviews is the KOA (which is a really really nice KOA), but it’s a LONG way from anything. In retrospect, we might have opted to stay closer to the individual parks since it was over an hours drive to get to Carlsbad Caverns & Guadaloupe Mountains National Parks. We could have camped at Guadaloupe Mountain National Park – the campground is a parking lot with no reservations available, but we checked it out and it would have been fine for a couple nights. There’s no camping available inside Carlsbad Caverns National Park, but where you turn to drive to the visitor center at White’s City, there is an RV Park – which looked run down, but was very full – location, location, location.
- Guadalupe Mountains Nat’l Park is a “hikers park” according to the Ranger in the Visitor Center. I was inquiring about shorter day hikes and was greeted with a less than enthusiastic ranger. Sort of like if we weren’t distance hikers, we weren’t welcome. We really wanted to climb to Guadalupe Peak Trail which would have taken us to the top of Guadalupe Mountain but 8.5 miles in 90-100 degree heat didn’t seem prudent. If we’d been camping there, we probably would have started the hike early and finished before late afternoon.
- We did have a nice 5 mile hike to the Pratt abandoned homestead in McKitterick canyon along a creek. McKitterick Canyon Trail goes on to the ridge overlooking canyon, but then it’s a longer hike that we had time for. I can honestly say I wanted to live at the Pratt homestead just so I could sit on the porch and rock in their rocking chairs. Instead we contented ourselves with rocking on the porch while enjoying our picnic lunch.
- Do not miss Sitting Bull Falls. Located in the Lincoln National Forest (with abundant spots for national forest camping which was also a possibility, but we didn’t know enough about it until we got there). Sitting Bull Falls is an oasis in the desert and worth a morning’s exploration. The hike is short (10 minutes on a paved trail) and the falls is spring fed, so there’s always some water. I’m sure that if we hadn’t arrived in the middle of a drought there might have been more water.
- Another don’t miss is the little Mexican import store – full of recycled metal sculptures (we bought my recycled metal roadrunner) and also mexican pottery and “stuff”. The store occupies both sides of the main drag through Carlsbad City and can’t be missed. It seems that everyone we met had been there, but no one knew the name of the place. 🙂
- We could have taken part of a day to drive up to Roswell, New Mexico (think ALIENS landing!!!), but others told us the Alien Museum is just a bunch of old newspaper clippings on the aliens sighting and not much more. So we skipped the opportunity to meet the aliens, but I did buy a bunch of Gumby-like aliens for my grandkids (and to play with during the rest of our trip!).
From Carlsbad it was on to Alamogordo, the nearest town to White Sands National Monument which turned out to be a highlight of our trip! Have you been to Carlsbad, NM? Did I miss anything?