Jim White's thrill of discovering the cave in his own words.
White was a cowboy when he first followed the cloud of whirling bats
to find the Carlsbad Caverns' entrance. This discovery started a lifetime
of exploration and promotion aimed at having the Caverns' beauty recognized
and preserved. For over 24 years, he was ridiculed for what was thought
to be grand exaggerations. His work was justified, when the Caverns
became a National Park in 1930. He was illiterate, but his story was
transcribed by Frank Nicholson. Although the story is true, it should
be remembered that these two weren't about to let the truth get in
the way of telling a good story.
White finds the Cavern
"I thought it was a volcano," Jim mused, "but, then, I'd
never seen a volcano-nor never before had I seen bats swarm, for that
matter. During my life on the range I'd seen plenty of prairie whirlwinds-but,
this thing didn't move: it remained in one spot, spinning its way upward.
I watched it for perhaps a half-hour-until my curiosity got the better
of me. Then I began investigating." Thus the explorer began the
most romantic tale of adventure this chronicler has ever heard.
is, until this particular day. I had sat for perhaps an hour watching
bats fly out. I couldn't estimate the number, but I knew that it must
run into millions. The more I thought of it the more I realized that
hole in the ground which could house such a gigantic army of bats must
be a whale of a big cave. I crept between cactus until I lay on the
of the chasm, and looked down. During all the years I'd known of the
place, I'd never taken the trouble to do this. There was no bottom
I shall never forget the feeling of aweness it gave me."
piled up some dead cactus and built a bonfire. When it was burning good,
I took a flaming stalk and pushed it off into the hole. Down, down,
it went until at last the flame went out. Finally I saw the glowing embers
strike and sprinkle on the rocks below. As nearly as I could estimate,
the drop must have been two hundred feet. I kicked the remainder of
bonfire into the hole, and watched it fall. This seemed to frighten the
bats, and for several minutes they ceased their flight. However, as
as the embers died out, the bats swarmed forth as before."
"I came to more and more stalagmites-each seemingly larger and more
beautifully formed than the ones I'd passed. I entered rooms filled with
colossal wonders in gleaming onyx. Suspended from the ceilings were mammoth
chandeliers-clusters of stalactites in every size and color. Walls that
were frozen cascades of glittering flowstone, jutting rocks that held
suspended long, slender formations that rang when I touched them-like
a key on the xylophone. Floors were lost under formations of every variety
and shape. Through the gloom I could see ghost-like totem poles, tall
and graceful, reaching upward into the darkness. I encountered hundreds
of pools filled with pure water as clear as glass, their sides lined
with crystalline onyx marble. The beauty, the weirdness, the grandeur and the
omniscience absolved my mind of all thoughts of a world above-I forgot
time, place and distance. Suddenly, however, a situation presented itself
which was serious enough to cause me to make a mental comeback to sterner
thoughts. The oil in my lantern had given out, and the flame curled up
and died. It seemed as though a million tons of black wool descended upon
me. The darkness was so dense it seemed smothering-choking me. Suddenly
I was seized with a mad desire to run-to charge like a crazy bull when
he finds himself cornered. I began scrambling along the edge of a black
abyss. In my foolish haste I rammed my head against the sharp points of
a mass of stalactites."
complete book, "Jim White's Own Story" can be purchased through
Carlsbad Caverns National Park.