What are some facts about the Carlsbad Caverns?


Quick Answer

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is an extensive cave system found beneath southeast New Mexico and northwest Texas. Though the caves lie underneath desert, they are the remains of an underwater reef from a prehistoric sea. The Carlsbad Caverns were the site of a hostage situation in 1979.

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Full Answer

More than 250 million years ago, the Carlsbad Caverns region was covered by a sea known as the Delaware Basin. The Capitan Reef bordered the Delaware Basin and reached from present-day Carlsbad, N.M. to present-day Alpine, Texas. A portion of the Capitan Reef is preserved inside Carlsbad Caverns with fossilized sea creatures, including snails, nautiluses and bivalves. Part of the reef is exposed above ground as mountains, but the formations in Carlsbad Caverns are an exceptionally well-preserved section of the ancient reef.

The caverns became a protected national monument in 1923. In 1979, four men armed with guns descended the cave elevator and held a park employee and about 100 tourists hostage. They fired off dozens of rounds in the cavern's underground lunchroom while the tourists hid nearby. The gunmen negotiated with law enforcement on the surface and threatened to blow up the elevator if their demands weren't met. After more than five hours, the gunmen surrendered and eventually faced federal charges for damaging the caves and destroying government property.

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