As we celebrate the 100th birthday of the National Park Service with our yearlong Find Your Adventure series, we’d like to call your attention to parks that represent what you might think of as our country’s buried treasures.
We’re talking about caverns, of course. We took you to Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave in the most recent issue of MotorHome (see “A Walk In The Dark” (http://www.motorhome.com/motorhome-travel/national-parks/a-walk-in-the-dark/), but the planet’s longest cave system isn’t the only underground world that enjoys the National Park Service’s protection.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located in southeastern New Mexico, a short distance southwest of the town of Carlsbad. There are a total of 119 caves in the park (including the fabulously decorated Lechuguilla), but the big draw is Carlsbad Caverns itself. In addition to the 4,000-foot-long Big Room, this cave is heavily decorated with natural formations from massive columns to delicate soda straws. If you go, be sure not to miss the nightly spectacle of nearly 800,000 bats whirling up out of the cave’s massive natural entrance around sundown.
Wind Cave National Park comes by its name honestly, as changes in the outside barometric pressure create winds of up to 70 MPH blowing out of (and into) the 10-by-14-inch natural opening. The cave is currently the densest cave system in the world with more that 140 miles of passageways concentrated in a relatively compact area an hour south of Rapid City, South Dakota. The cave is also home to a rare formation called “boxwork” that’s found virtually nowhere else on earth.
Jewel Cave National Monument protects the third-longest cave system in the world, with more than 180 miles of passages currently mapped and more being discovered all the time (by some estimates, as little as three percent of the cave has currently been surveyed). Located 13 miles west of the town of Custer in South Dakota’s Black Hills, the cave takes its name from the sparkling calcite crystals that decorate its interior.