Have you ever had an interest in visiting caves? That doesn't necessarily mean that you have to go all out and start exploring caves that only a professional can get through. Certain places, such as New Mexico, offer plenty of opportunities where you can comfortably walk through commercial caverns without making yourself claustrophobic in the process. That said, they also sport some of the most challenging caves in the country. In fact, they have one of the most celebrated cave systems in the United States, with more than 119 caves to be explored. Here are 10 of their best. If you're so inclined, visit one or all 10 and see what you think for yourself.
10. Slaughter Canyon Cave (Ebby County)
This is one of the more challenging caves in the state. In order to get to it, you have to participate in a moderately strenuous hike that takes about 45 minutes. From there, you enter a cave system that is not lit with narrow, uneven and often slippery walkways. As opposed to visiting some of the other cave systems that have incorporated lighting and level pathways, this particular cave is far more natural. As a result, the only light that you have will come from flashlights or in some cases, headlamps. The trip inside the cave is about as strenuous as the hike that comes before it, so no one younger than eight years of age is allowed to take the trip. It is a guided tour, and it is crucial that you stay with your tour guides so that you can enjoy the cave while simultaneously staying safe.
9. Carlsbad Caverns National Park (Ebby County)
This is an entire cave system of various caverns that can be visited as part of the National Park. Fortunately, there is a cave that is well suited for every skill level, even for those who may suffer from a few slight mobility issues. Of course, it's imperative that you choose the cave that you decide to visit carefully so that you can enjoy your experience to the fullest. It's also important that you follow any and all directions provided on the website as well as those from officials and tour guides.
8. Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano (Cibola County)
There are many things that make this particular trip unique. For starters, it's located directly on the Continental Divide. Such a location lends itself to its other claim to fame. There are two self guided tours that you can take here, one into the dormant Bandera volcano and the other into an ice cave that remains icy cold on a year-round basis. Imagine having these two complete polar opposites located right there together. It's definitely an experience that you won't get in many other places around the world, so if you have the opportunity to take advantage of it, you would probably do well for yourself to enjoy it while you can.
7. Painted Cave (Los Alamos)
This is not a cave that offers a guided tour, so it's imperative that you be in good physical condition and know a good amount about caving before you head here. You can enter at the Visitor Center or at the Dome Trailhead. The trailhead is by far the easiest hike, which is considered a 14 mile strenuous hike to the mouth of the cave. From The Visitor Center, you're looking at a 22 mile hike that is best accomplished over the course of a day or two. It's also imperative that you check with officials prior to your hike to become advised of any conditions that might warrant a change in plans before you begin your hike, as this is a rugged wilderness area that is prone to both flooding and fire.
6. Fort Stanton-Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area (Lincoln County)
This National Conservation Area was developed in 2009 to protect the Fort Stanton cave. The cave itself is just over 42 miles in length, making it the second longest cave in the state of New Mexico. For comparison's sake, it is the 14th longest in the United States.
5. El Malpais National Monument (Grants)
The trek to this cave is not an easy one. The entire landscape surrounding the cave is considered to be among the most barren and difficult in the entire state. This cave is a sight to behold, once you actually get there, but getting there can be a real challenge. It’s definitely worth the trip, but you need to have good physical endurance and more than a few survival skills to enjoy it safely.
4. Bandelier (Los Alamos)
This area offers both rock climbing and caving. As a matter of fact, many of the caves must be climbed up to, then climbed into in order to fully enjoy them. It’s a unique experience that you’re sure to remember for the rest of your life. It’s also a great way to stay physically fit.
3. Fox Cave (Ruidoso)
This is one of the smallest caves in the state. Interestingly enough, it’s also been turned into a gift shop. Perhaps its biggest claim to fame is that Billy the Kid supposedly used it as a hangout when he was running from the law.
2. Rancho de San Juan (Ojo Caliente)
This is a unique resort that offers meditation classes as well as nature retreats. Of course, there is a tour of the majestic caves in the area. In fact, there are a number of caves right there on the grounds that are waiting to be explored.
1. Tent Rocks National Monument (Sandoval County)
There is a cave located on the grounds, along with plenty of hiking. In fact, you have to hike several miles to get to the mouth of the cave. Even though it can be rather slow going at times, it’s definitely worth the effort once you get to the cave itself.
Written by Liz Flynn
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