On the surface, Carlsbad Caverns National Park is deceptively normal—but all bets are off once visitors set foot in the elevator, which plunges 75 stories underground. The country beneath the surface is part silky darkness, part subterranean hallucination. The snaky, illuminated walkway seems less like a trail and more like a foray across the River Styx and into the underworld. Within more than 14 football fields of this netherworld are hundreds of formations that alternately resemble cakes, soda straws, ocean waves, and the large, leering face of a mountain troll.
- 400,000 hungry bats From mid-May to late October, bats wing to and from the caverns in a swirling, visible tornado.
- Take a guided tour through the underworld Plummet 75 stories underground and step into enormous caves hung with stalactites and bristling with stalagmites.
- Living Desert Zoo and Gardens More preserve than zoo, this 1,500-acre park houses scores of rare species, including endangered Mexican wolves, Bolson tortoises, and black bears.
- Birding at Rattlesnake Springs Nine-tenths of the park's 330 bird species, including roadrunners, golden eagles, and acrobatic cave swallows, visit this green desert oasis.
- Pecos River A Southwest landmark and recreational oasis, the Pecos River flows through the heart of nearby Carlsbad.