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Carlsbad, New Mexico Carlsbad, New Mexico Carlsbad, New Mexico Carlsbad, New Mexico Carlsbad, New Mexico Carlsbad, New Mexico
Carlsbad, New Mexico

Experience Jim White's thrill of discovering the cave, in his own words.

Entrance sign to Caverns
Jim 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.

Jim 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.

"That 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 any 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 brink 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 in sight! I shall never forget the feeling of aweness it gave me."

"I 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, 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 the bonfire into the hole, and watched it fall. This seemed to frighten the bats, and for several minutes they ceased their flight. However, as soon as the embers died out, the bats swarmed forth as before."

His first descent
"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."

The complete book, "Jim White's Own Story" can be purchased through Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

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