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Discover 10 Incredible Caves in New Mexico

Nestled in the southwestern parts of the United States, New Mexico is blessed with diverse landscapes and ecosystems, which include vast deserts and deeply forested mountains. Six of the seven life zones in the world are in New Mexico. These life zones are classified based on vegetation types and vary depending on the altitude and the sun’s orientation.

The caving systems are New Mexico’s most unique natural characteristic. They cover an extensive percentage of the state’s topography. Whether you are an experienced spelunker or just looking for an easy trek to the caves, exploring the caves below in New Mexico is a sure way to experience the fascinating sights while making unforgettable memories in the natural habitats.

From the massive underground chamber in Carlsbad Caverns National Park to hand-carved Ra Paulette’s cave in Santa Fe, there’s everything for everyone!

Bandelier National Monument

Named after a Swiss-American anthropologist, Adolph Bandelier, who supported the preservation of the sites, Bandelier National Monument is an ideal place for history buffs. It was an ancient dwelling place of Pueblo Indians over 10,000 years ago. Their presence has been dated to between 1150 CE and 1550 CE.

Catch sight of different ceremonial structures, paintings, and rock carvings at the Frijoles Canyon. The monument features dwellings carved into the soft rock cliffs, petroglyphs, and pictographs made by the Pueblo Indians. Another beautiful sight you shouldn’t miss is the Painted Cave, which houses a fascinating pictograph panel.

El Malpais National Monument

Home to some of the oldest Rocky Mountain Douglas-firs, El Malpais National Monument, is a perfect destination to explore. The monument’s richly diverse volcanic landscape is characterized by the best geological features, mossy gardens, and hidden ice formations.

Explore incredible geological features, such as sandstone bluffs, cinder cones, lava tube caves, Four Windows Caves, Big Skylight, and Giant Ice.

Be sure to carry all the caving essentials before entering the caves. Other activities you can engage in include hiking and backcountry camping within the area.

Ra Paulette’s Hand-Carved Caves

Ra Paulette’s Hand-Carved Caves are a series of human-made caves in New Mexico, where people go for profound initiation and recognition of their deepest and most primal selves. Visitors have the opportunity to meditate and experience sound healing while at the cave. Without a doubt, you will never forget this cave experience once you visit.

Inside the cave, each interior differs from the other, making you feel like you are entering an enchanted world. Take a guided tour to experience a complete spiritual retreat and enjoy the views of the magnificent artwork

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns is among the main attractions in the park. The cavern has some huge rooms covered in spectacular rock formations. Take a self-guided tour of one of the most exciting rooms called Big Room. True to its name, this room is massive and has some of the most awe-inspiring geologic features that will leave you speechless.

There are several other cave formations in the park, such as the King’s Palace, Left Hand Tunnel, Hall of the White Giant, Lower Cave, Spider Cave, and Slaughter Canyon Cave. Spelunkers who want to experience a real caving adventure should visit the Hall of the White Giant, where they will crawl through narrow surfaces and free-climb through the rocky formations.

Fort Stanton Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area

Fort Stanton Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area was established to conserve and protect the Snowy River Cave’s archaeological, cultural, historical, and scientific resources. With an estimated 40 miles of mapped passages, Snowy River Cave is one of the longest caves in New Mexico.

Aside from caving, visitors can participate in other outdoor activities, such as mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, hunting, camping, photography, and wildlife viewing. Visit Fort Stanton Museum and learn more about its history.

Jornada Bat Caves

Jornada Bat Caves is located inside Ted Turner’s Armendaris Ranch in southern New Mexico. It’s home to one of the nation’s largest populations of Mexican free-tailed bats. Other bat species, including the spotted bat and Allen’s big-eared bat, have also been sighted at the Jornada site. The cave is not accessible to the public because of the endangered bats sheltering there. At dusk, visitors can watch thousands of bats emerging out of the cave in search of food.

  • Address: Truth or Consequences, NM 87901, United States
  • Website: Jornada Bat Caves | The Nature Conservancy
  • Phone number: +1 505-988-3867
  • Entrance fee: : Day trips to the Armendaris Ranch vary depending on the number of people and length of the tour. It’s $350 for a 5-hour tour of 1-2 people and $800 for an 8-hour tour of 1-2 people. An additional $100 will be required for an extra individual.
  • Google Maps link: Armendaris Ranch – Engle, NM

Bandera Volcano Ice Cave

Bandera Volcano Ice Cave, “The Land of Fire and Ice,” offers some of the most impressive views, which include lava flows formed thousands of years ago. Take a walk into a dormant volcano through the meandering old-growth Juniper and Ponderosa Pine Trees. Here you can catch sight of natural arctic algae and several layers of ice glistening blue-green.

After viewing the Bandera Volcano, you can take another self-guided trail into the perpetual Ice Cave in Bandera’s collapsed lava tube section. The cave is a natural phenomenon formed by a combination of physical factors, such as the continuous accumulation of a thick ice mass and the melting and freezing of snow. The cave features a gemstone-mining sluice, providing an educational diversion during your exploration.

Fox Cave

Formerly known as the “Ice Cave,” Fox Cave is a watershed cave formed thousands of years ago by the erosion of a rock caused by the Ruidoso River. It was the hideout for Outlaw Billy the Kid, officially known as William H. Bonney, a 19th-century gunfighter who played a part in the Lincoln County War, becoming a frontier outlaw in the American Old West.

Stop by while driving along East Highway 70 and enjoy the beautiful view of the cave rocks made of micrite. You will also see a spectacular little gift shop with Native American jewelry, souvenirs, and wares.

  • Address: 26897 US-70, Ruidoso Downs, NM 88346, United States
  • Website: Fox Cave
  • Phone number: +1 575-378-9954
  • Entrance fee: Fox Cave & Animal Park – $5 for adults 13+, $3 for children between 5 and 12, free for children under 5.
  • Google Maps link: Fox Cave

Sandia Man Cave

Sandia Cave is an archaeological site on the north side of Sandia Mountains, high up on a steep side wall of Las Huertas Canyon. It was first discovered and excavated in the 1930s. The cave provides evidence of early human use dating between 9,000 and 11,000 years ago.

Visitors must take one of the most difficult half-mile trails to access the cave off New Mexico State Road 165. The trail requires traversing a concrete staircase, limestone ledges in the cliff, and a steep metal staircase that leads to the cave’s entrance.

You can enjoy the incredible views of mountains near Santa Fe while climbing the metal staircase. It would be best if you bring your flashlights and comfortable shoes if you plan on exploring the cave’s dark passages.

Slaughter Canyon Cave

Slaughter Canyon Cave in Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a moderately strenuous adventure tour. The cave is home to massive formations, such as the Chinese Wall, a delicate rimstone dam; the Christmas Tree, a crystal-decorated column; and the Mushroom.

The cave meanders through very dark, narrow, uneven, and slippery pathways that may require the help of flashlights and headlamps. You can participate in activities like hiking, bat viewing, and photography at the park.

Final Thoughts

New Mexico offers no limits to the number of underground passageways available for you to explore. Slaughter Canyon Cave, Carlsbad Caverns, and El Malpais National Monument are a few of the best underground passages to try out as long as you have conquered your claustrophobia and fear of the dark. Tour availability varies by season, and most caves require you to make reservations.

Top image: daveynin via Flickr / Creative Commons.

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