Humans have a strange fascination with caves. They offer a glimpse into another world — whether within a mountain or underground. There are five truly amazing caves in New Mexico you must visit. From underground ice caves to hand-carved sandstone caves to the intricate and huge system in Carlsbad (a true bucket-list item), take a look at these otherworldly caves.
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
1. Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Perhaps the most well-known of New Mexico’s caves, Carlsbad Caverns is located in the Guadalupe Mountains in southeast part of the state. Inside the mysterious caverns is the Big Room, a large, natural limestone chamber almost 4,000 feet long, 625 feet wide, and 255 feet high. This is the fifth largest cave chamber in North America and the 28th largest in the world. The natural coral-like rock formations are truly magical and seem rather otherworldly.
Among the park’s most popular attraction - aside from the cave - is the 17 species of bats. In particular, there is a large colony of Brazilian free-tailed bats which demonstrate spectacular out-flights from the caves each evening from spring through autumn. That being said, beware of bat guano inside of the caves. Regardless of this minor inconvenience, Carlsbad Caverns is, hands-down, the definitive place to see for spelunkers of all ages. Take a look at these stunning pictures.
2. Bandelier National Monument
Located near Los Alamos, this 33,677-acre national monument preserves territory and homes of ancestral Puebloans. Most of the pueblo structures date between 1150 and 1600 A.D. There are several stunning hiking trails around; however, the pièce de resistance is the cave dwellings. Located inside Frijoles Canyon, several pueblos, kivas, rock paintings, and petroglyphs are prevalent. While some of these dwellings were built on the canyon floor, others were carved out in the volcanic voids of the canyon walls.
In particular, Painted Cave is truly stunning. This cave houses a spectacular pictograph panel in an alcove near the lower end of Capulin Canyon. However, reaching this amazing cave isn’t easy. A fairly strenuous 11-mile hike will get you there and, accordingly, this is a trip best planned out over a few days.
3. El Malpais National Monument
Called the land of fire and ice, El Malpais is chock full of cinder cones, spatter cones, lava flows, sandstone bluffs, hiking trails, and its wondrous lava tube ice caves. The word
malpais is derived from the Spanish word meaning badlands. The monument is named this due to the dynamic yet barren volcanic field that occupies most of the park’s area. This wondrous national monument is located near Grants on the Trails of the Ancients Byway.
The monument is full of lava tube caves with interesting geology and hidden ice formations. Caving permits are free, and if you have the proper equipment, you can explore these wondrous underworlds. You can download a free caving brochure
4. Fort Stanton Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area
Located between Capitan and Lincoln in the eastern foothills of the Sierra Blanca, this conservation area measures just over 25,000 acres. Within this massive park is Fort Stanton Cave, the third longest in the entire state. Once explored by soldiers who were stationed at the fort, inscriptions can be seen inside the cave.
One passage in Fort Stanton Cave is Snowy River Cave. This stunning cave earned its name due to the stream bed of stark white calcite.
5. Ra Paulette’s Hand-Carved Caves
This collection of 14 different manmade caves is located approximately an hour north of Santa Fe in Embudo. 67-year-old artist extraordinaire Paulette created this fantasy world with his hands. By tunneling into the soft sandstone, Paulette’s caves are a truly incredible work of art, and he says he finds joy in the actual creative process, not necessarily the end result.
Some of these caves are accessible while others are not. Some are on private land, some are open to the public, and one, in fact, is being sold for over one million dollars! Each cave is different in design and composition - and deep spiritual meaning for the artist. In fact, Paulette’s life and work was the subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary entitled
Which of these caves in New Mexico have you visited? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.