Carlsbad Caverns
Leaving El Paso, Texas on the morning of 30 May 2011, Kelly Bou and I headed east to visit New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  The park's visitor centre was teeming with tourists when we arrived, but we did not have to wait long to purchase an interagency annual pass plus tickets for the guided Kings Palace Tour ($8 USD per person).  After being given a short briefing about safety and regulations by a park ranger, we descended into the caverns on foot via the Natural Entrance.  Even with all the paved paths, handrails, and artificial lighting built by the National Park Service, I still could not help feeling a little trepidation as we dropped further into the dark abyss.  The feeling was short-lived though, and soon I was staring in awe at all the underground geologic wonders and reaching for my camera at almost every turn of the path.  Words and photos (mine, at least) fail to describe or convey the true magnificence and grandeur of Carlsbad Caverns.  The caverns are simply a marvel to behold, and the crowds and tourist infrastructure do little to diminish the experience.  The Kings Palace Tour allowed us to visit a restricted part of the caverns, but the most worthwhile aspect of the tour was the wealth of fascinating historic and scientific information dispensed by our excellent guide.  After nearly five hours of sensory overload, Kelly and I were a tad exhausted and gladly rode one of the access elevators back to the surface.
Jim White, the pioneering explorer of Carlsbad Caverns, had some big cahones going down there alone with just a kerosene lamp! This is the Natural Entrance.
I think this is the Bat Cave! These are some of the first stalactites and soda straws that visitors see when entering via the Natural Entrance.
It is forbidden to touch any of the cave formations (oil from hands disrupts speleothem growth). This column is surrounded by a pool of water at Devils Spring.  Most of the speleothems (cave formations) at Carlsbad Caverns were formed by sulfuric acid dissolution.
Looks like a bunch of small wee-wees! Here is a close-up of coralloids or "cave popcorn".
Not for the claustrophobic! Kelly walks through a narrow passage.
I couldn't help thinking of the movie "Alien" throughout my visit! Here is an example of flowstone in the Main Corridor.
Unfortunately, I didn't get a good shot of the Green Lake itself. Here are some of the stalactites near the Green Lake Room.
It will likely be several hundred years or more before they touch. This is the Sword of Damocles in the Big Room.  Eventually, it will touch the stalagmite below it and form a column or pillar.
It was very dark here, and the flash photo doesn't really capture the depth of the scenery. This is a section of mostly short stalagmites known as Fairyland.
Simply amazing. The Chandelier is one of the highlights of the Big Room.
Insert phallic joke here. The Big Room contains many stalagmites like this one.
Parts of the 1959 movie, "Journey to the Center of the Earth", were filmed here. The Kings Palace is open to the public only via a guided tour.
Think they would allow dynamite in the caverns nowadays? Kelly walks through a tunnel between the Kings Palace and the Papoose Room.  The tunnel was dynamited in 1932.  Note the budding stalactites that have developed since then.
'Papoose' means American Indian baby or child. This is one end of the Papoose Room.
Many of the stalactites here are blunted because of breakage by previous thoughtless tourists. The Papoose Room, like the Kings Palace and the Queens Chamber, used to be open to the public, but the Park Service was forced to restrict access because of rampant vandalism.
The guide turned off all the lights during this part of the tour. The ensuing darkness was absolute. Here are some more stalactites and columns in the Queens Chamber.
Maybe the rocks are alive... Helictites seem to defy gravity and grow in all directions.  The mechanism of their formation is still a bit of a mystery.
Probably don't want that thing 'swishing' over your head. Back in the Big Room, this formation is called Lions Tail.
They're BIG! These stalagmites in the Hall of Giants are known as Twin Domes and Giant Dome.
Unfortunately, the Lower Cave Tour was sold out on this day. The Lower Cave (bottom left) is also accessible only by guided tour.
Thousands of years in the making... Here is a closer look at the Chandelier from the other end of the Big Room.
It's actually a lot whiter than it looks in the photo. Crystal Springs Dome is another featured landmark in the Big Room.
It's sobering to think what other undiscovered marvels there may be under the Earth's surface. Here is a more comprehensive view of the Big Room.  Note the pathway railings.
They used to allow wedding ceremonies here! This speleothem is known as the Rock Of Ages.
For some reason, this one reminds me of a chicken carcass! There are other tunnels that lead away from the Big Room.
Where's Ken and Barbie? The Dolls Theater is one of the smaller cave attractions.  The mouth of the opening is about a metre wide.
Ah so! This is the Chinese Theater.
I thought the 'green men' were supposed to be 'little'... Sonny hangs out with a couple of locals in nearby Whites City.