Carlsbad Caverns

by Bob Hoelscher 1. February 2012 19:03

In January, I decided to visit some of the lesser-known, but truly outstanding national parks in the Southwest. One of these is the world-famous Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, via a scenic seven-mile spur road from U.S. 62/180 at White’s City. By far, the most popular tour here for group visitors is the self-guided route through the spectacular Big Room, which is included in the standard park entrance fee. 

Rental of individual “Audio Guide” units are an additional $3 per person. This 1.25-mile round-trip, which begins and concludes with an elevator ride to and from the Underground Rest Area, follows a paved, mostly level trail, although there are a couple of hills which are short but relatively steep. Even individuals who tend towards claustrophobia will not be upset by their visit to the massive, eight-acre Big Room, which has a 255-foot ceiling and is filled with beautiful, delicate formations, as well as huge columns, stalactites and stalagmites. 

Highlights along the route itself, include the Lion’s Tail, Hall of Giants, Bottomless Pit and the Rock of Ages.  Exhibits, a restaurant, book store and gift shop are also available on site. Quality group accommodations can easily be found in the town of Carlsbad, which is 27 miles northeast of the Visitor Center. I would no longer recommend staying in the motel units at nearby White’s City, which seems to have fallen on hard times during recent years.        

Groups interested in more extensive cave exploration certainly have a lot to choose from at Carlsbad Caverns. I enjoyed taking the self-guided (and no extra cost) route through the Natural Entrance many years ago, which is a 1.25-mile trip to the Big Room through a steep, roughly 800-foot descent from the surface. Guided tours are available for an additional charge of from $7 to $20 per person over the general park admission, and last from 1½ to 4 hours. Most require strenuous climbs and negotiation of ladders and/or dirt trails that may be rocky or slippery.

Two “Wild Caving” adventures are also offered, which both involve “climbing and crawling, tight squeezes, drop-offs” and a promise that participants “will get dirty.” Finally, in mid-summer, early-rising visitors can participate in the unique “Carlsbad Caverns Bat Flight Breakfast,” featuring the bats’ awe-inspiring return flight to the Natural Entrance at dawn.

Bob Hoelscher, CTC, CTP, MCC, CTIE, is a longtime travel industry executive who has sold his tour company, bought a motorhome and is traveling the highways and byways of America.  He is a former chairman of NTA, and was a founding member of Travel Alliance Partners (TAP).

Well-known in the industry as both a baseball and symphony aficionado, Bob is also one of the country’s biggest fans of our national parks, both large and small.  He has already visited more than 325 NPS sites and has several dozen yet to see.  He is currently traveling the country to visit as many of those parks as possible.  His blog, “Travels with Bob,” appears periodically on The Group Travel Leader’s blogsite, “Are We There Yet”. 

Bob is available for contractual work in the industry and may be reached at or by calling (435) 590-1553.


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Three Southwestern National Parks

Kenai Fjords: Alaska's masterpiece

by Brian Jewell 14. July 2011 22:27


In my eight years of professional travel I've been compiling a list of places that every American should visit. The list is full of big-name destinations: The Grand Canyon, Washington D.C. and New York City come to mind. Today, I added another must-see spot: Kenai Fjords National Park.

We arrived this morning in Seward, a small town at the southern end of the Kenai Peninsula, which is the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park. Though there are numerous jaw-dropping national parks in Alaska, Kenai Fjords is unique in numerous aspect, including the fact that it is the only park visited almost exclusively by boat. So our group boarded the Kenai Explorer for a six-hour sightseeing cruise that would take us alongside the fjords for incomparable view of scenery and wildlife.

A fjord is a geological formation that has been carved by a glacier, and the Kenai Fjords are massive stone monoliths and islands that sit on the edge of the Gulf of Alaska. Behind the large stone formations sits the Harding Ice Field, an expansive range of snow-capped mountains where a number of active glaciers continue to move down hill toward the sea. These two elements create a dreamy duality of scenery: Cruising along the coast, I was taken aback by the way that the tree-topped rock formations in the foreground contrasted with the snow-capped mountains climbing behind them in the background. This place where the mountains meet the sea is as beautiful as any other place I've seen on earth.

And the attraction goes beyond landscape snapshots. Our boat's captain and crew helped us to spot humpback whales and Steller sea lions in the waters and rocks of the fjords, as well as puffins and other sea birds that make their home in the area. And the highlight of the cruise was a visit to Holgate Glacier, a 400-foot high colossus of snow and ice that moves at four feet per day into the sea. Standing outside on the deck to see the glacier, we could feel it cooling the air around us. Large chunks of ice that have calved off the glacier float in the water, and our boat crew fished a few pieces up on to deck for us to see and touch. It is the cleanest, coldest and most dense ice that you will likely ever see.

It's hard to described how moving this experience was. The Kenai Fjords are so grand, so pristine and so transcendent. There are many great reasons to visit Alaska; after a day soaking in their majesty, though, I am convinced that the Kenai Fjords are the only reason you really need.


Marveling at the scenery from the bow of the Kenai Explorer

The Chiswell Islands, evidence of the area's glacial past, and the distant Harding Ice Field

Approaching Holgate Glacier

Small chunks of ice that calved off the glacier are crystal-clear.


Thanks to Cruises and Tours Worldwide for hosting us on this trip. Visit their website at

Moving through the mountains

by Brian Jewell 12. May 2009 18:19

Near GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, Mont. -- The Rocky Mountains come bursting out on to the planes, without warning, and almost out of nowhere.

We've been riding through the planes for most of the day -- all the way through North Dakota, and most of Montana, the landscape is flat, with only short moments of relief. But now, as we begin to approach Glacier National Park, the Rockies appear, dominant on the skyline. And they are spectacular.

Now that we're in range, though, I can tell that the landscape is changing. A few miles out, foothills start to take shape. And though it's mid-May, there are patches if snow all along the side of the
hills. In this part of the country, everything begins to change: the once-barren landscape is now abundant with cedar, birch, maple and pine. Streams run alongside the tracks. There are signs of life.

One of the great benefits of traveling the Northwest by rail is the unshakable sense of grandeur that you get along the way. The Empire Builder cuts through Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Washington and Oregon. All together, it stretches nearly 2,000 miles.

If you really want to, you can look out the window and see every one of them go by.

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