Carlsbad Caverns National Park

New Mexico

Inscribed 1995

Hidden beneath the surface of Carlsbad Caverns National Park are more than 119 known caves – all formed when sulfuric acid dissolved the surrounding limestone leaving behind caverns of all sizes. The limestone caves of Carlsbad Caverns National Park are outstanding and notable world-wide because of their size, mode of origin, and the abundance, diversity and beauty of the decorative rock formations within. On-going geologic processes continue to form rare and unique formations, particularly in Lechuguilla Cave. In addition, the Permian-aged Capitan Reef complex (in which Carlsbad Caverns, Lechuguilla and other caves formed) is one of the best preserved and most accessible complexes available for scientific study in the world.

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Carlsbad Caverns National Park preserves a portion of the Capitan Reef—one of the best-preserved, exposed Permian-age fossil reefs in the world.

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Water, geologic forces, climactic changes, and vast spans of time have produced and changed the fossil reef and its spectacular caves, a process that continues to the present day.

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Sometime in the past few million years, collapse at the top of the cave and surface erosion created the natural entrance of Carlsbad Cavern. This opened previously hidden underground cave passageways to the world above for the first time.

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The magnificent speleothems (cave formations) that continue to grow and decorate Carlsbad Cavern are due to rain and snowmelt soaking through limestone rock, then eventually dripping into a cave below and evaporating.

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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.

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The faster the dripping, the more likely it is to make some type of decoration on the floor.

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Map of Carlsbad Caverns National Park below the Chihuahuan Desert.