One of the most interesting places to visit and the hardest to photograph is Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southeastern New Mexico. It’s 662 miles from Fort Collins and takes about 10 hours to get there, but worth every mile and minute. The cave itself lies tucked in the Guadalupe Mountains and there are more than 100 other caves that have been surveyed inside the boundary of the National Park. Formations within it’s known grottos include dazzling gypsum chandeliers, huge towering columns, sheet-like draperies, domes, millions of stalactites and stalagmites and even a bottomless pit. The BIG ROOM is 370 feet high and 14 acres in size. It’s the largest cave cave chamber in North America and the whole place is so incredible that it has been designated as a World Heritage Site.
You can enter the cavern by way of two self guided routes. The natural entrance is a one and a quarter mile steep trek that descends the equivalent of a seventy nine story building. I’d highly recommend taking it because it gives you a unique perspective of discovery and allows time to adjust to cave photography. The Big Room can be accessed using an elevator or from the bottom of the natural entrance trail. The climate is cool and stays a constant 56 degrees. I took a jacket, but with all of the hiking and maneuvering while taking pictures it was just to much. Good boots are a must because of the steep and wet trails.
The entire place is beyond any words I could find to serve it justice. It seems impossible to capture the full grandeur of the place on any but the smallest scale. Flash photography is pretty useless because the light is lost in its deep, ultra indigo vastness. The rooms are dimly lit and do provide enough light to take time exposures and yet that’s difficult too. A good tripod and cable release are the only way I found picture taking to be effective. The cave lighting works to the photographers advantage and disadvantage. Without it, there wouldn’t be any pictures to be had and you’d never find your way around the place. On the other side, exposures necessary to capture the incredible formations are in the 10 to 30 second range. Even the smallest amount of light in certain areas seem to be magnified and will burn out sections of an image. I found that I had to stop down my Canon 7D two to three full stops in order counter burnouts. Hit and and miss were the order of the day so taking several exposures using different combinations was always necessary. It was hard to change the settings on my camera because of the dim surroundings. As always, practice with your photo gear and know how to make adjustments before taking on a big trek. All in all, I took almost 1000 pictures in the course of the day with mixed results. There were however, a few keepers. Click