Ninety-two years ago today President Calvin Coolidge signed a proclamation creating Carlsbad Cave National Monument and its “extraordinary proportions and… unusual beauty and variety of natural decoration…” It became a national park in 1930.
As you pass through the Chihuahuan Desert and Guadalupe Mountains of southeastern New Mexico and west Texas—filled with prickly pear, chollas, sotols and agaves—you might never guess there are more than 300 known caves beneath the surface. The park contains 113 of these caves, formed when sulfuric acid dissolved the surrounding limestone, creating some of the largest caves in North America.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located in the Guadalupe Mountains, a mountain range that runs from west Texas into southeastern New Mexico. Elevations within the park rise from 3,595 feet (1,095 meters) in the lowlands to 6,520 feet (1,987 meters) atop the escarpment. Although there are scattered woodlands in higher elevations, the park is primarily a variety of grassland and desert shrubland habitats.
The Chihuahuan Desert is the largest and wettest of the North American deserts. Most of the desert is in Mexico, but the park is one of the few places where the desert is preserved and protected. The park averages more than 14.4 in (36.6 cm) of annual precipitation and has a semi-arid, continental climate with mild winters, warm summers with plenty of rain. The average annual temperature is 63F (19C).
The park supports a diverse ecosystem, including habitat for many plants and animals that are at the geographic limits of their ranges. For example, the ponderosa pine reaches its extreme eastern limit here and several species of reptiles are at the edges of their distributions.