New Mexico State Road 7 is approximately a seven-mile highway in the Guadalupe Mountains of Eddy County. New Mexico State Road 7 connects US Route 62/US Route 180 at Whites City to the visitor center of Carlsbad Caverns National Park via Walnut Canyon. The so-called Carlsbad Caverns Highway to the National Park visitor center complex was constructed following the designation of the namesake National Monument in 1923. The current iteration of New Mexico State Road 7 was designated by the New Mexico State Highway Commission during June 1929. A proposal once was once floated to connect New Mexico State Road 7 to a cavern drive which would have been blasted into Big Room.
Part 1; the history of New Mexico State Road 7
What are now Carlsbad Caverns was explored in the Guadalupe Mountains of Eddy County by local Jim White during 1898. White explored the caverns via a homemade ladder and named several of the more notable rooms. The name "Carlsbad Caverns" was derived from the nearby city of Carlsbad.
Carlsbad Caverns gained notoriety after the Scenic Room and Big Room were photographed by Ray V. Davis circa 1915-1918. The photos taken by Davis were prominently featured in the New York Times during 1923. Between April 6 to May 8, 1923, Robert Holley of the General Land Office surveyed Carlsbad Caverns. Holley recommended Carlsbad Caverns be designated as a National Monument. On October 25, 1923, President Calvin Coolidge declared Carlsbad Caverns National Monument via provisions of the Antiquities Act.
A road was constructed from New Mexico State Road 18 to the Natural Entrance of Carlsbad Caverns via Walnut Canyon following the establishment of the National Monument. During 1924, Willis T. Lee who was the acting Carlsbad Caverns National Monument custodian recommended driving tour tunnel through Big Room in a letter to National Park Service Director Stephen Mather:
"[W]hy not build our tunnel with the ultimate purpose of building an automobile route through the Big Room and driving a mile or two through the cavern, lighting the several wonders by headlights. There is ample room for all automobiles needed and plenty of parking spaces inside."
The proposed driving tunnel was proposed with a $5 fee and was ultimately never constructed. The new road to Carlsbad Caverns National Monument can be seen on the 1927 National Map Company Section Map.
The road to Carlsbad Caverns was designated as the second iteration of New Mexico State Road 7 by the State Highway Commission during June 1929. On May 14, 1930, Carlsbad Caverns was designated by Congress.
New Mexico State Road 7 can be seen in detail on the 1945 United States Geological Survey map of Carlsbad Caverns East. New Mexico State Road 7 is seen originating at US Route 62/US Route 180 at Whites City. From Whites City, the routing of New Mexico State Road 7 is depicted as passing through Walnut Canyon to the Carlsbad Caverns National Park Visitor Center.
On December 9, 1981, the New Mexico State Highway Commission designated the 0.5-mile portion of New Mexico State Road 7 from US Route 62/US Route 180 to the National Park boundary as the "Carlsbad Caverns Highway."
Part 2; a drive on New Mexico State Road 7
New Mexico State Road 7 begins from US Route 62/US Route 180 in Whites City. Traffic is advised New Mexico State Road 7 can be used to access Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
Whites City was plotted during 1928 after Charlie White homesteaded 120 acres of land at the mouth of Walnut Canyon. Whites City includes a general store, hotel, gas station and an RV park which cater to visitors to Carlsbad Caverns.
New Mexico State Road 7 west of Whites City enters Walnut Canyon of the Guadalupe Mountains and the boundary Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Traffic is advised the park Visitor Center is 7 miles away.
New Mexico State Road 7 passes through Walnut Canyon and ascends a ridge to a terminus at the Carlsbad Caverns National Park Visitor Center.
Part 3; a hike at Carlsbad Caverns
The current Visitor Center complex of Carlsbad Caverns National Park was completed in 1959. The current facility uses the same 750-foot-deep elevator shaft completed in 1932. An addition elevator shaft was installed during the 1955. In 1925 access to the Natural Entrance to the caverns was improved when a staircase was installed which eliminated the previous guano bucket system. Access through the Natural Entrance was converted to modern standards during the 1950s.
Hikers are advised of airborne Radon approaching the Natual Entrance gate.
The trail into Carlsbad Caverns descends through the Natural Entrance via a series of switchbacks. Upon reaching 200 feet below the surface the trail enters the so-called "Bat Cave."
The trail descends deeper through the Bat Cave and Devil's Den to the Main Corridor of Carlsbad Caverns.
The trail descends to the Big Room where hikers can access the Visitor Center elevator or continue to the Big Room Trail.
The Big Room Trail loops through several notable features such as the Totem Pole, Mirror Lake, Bottomless Pit, Rock of Ages, Painted Grotto and Jim White Tunnel before returning to elevator junction.
During 1977 four new elevators were installed to replace those placed in 1932 and 1955. The original 1932 elevators were the longest single-lift elevators when first completed.