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No, you can't take your car into the caves, but for a close-up as well as panoramic view of the Chihuahuan Desert, head out on the Walnut Canyon Desert Drive, a 9 1/2-mile loop. You'll want to drive slowly on the one-way gravel road, both for safety and to thoroughly appreciate the dramatic scenery. Passenger cars can easily handle the tight turns and narrow passage, but the road is not recommended for motor homes or cars pulling trailers. Pick up an informational brochure at the visitor center bookstore.

Bats, Birds & Other Wildlife Viewing

At sunset, from mid-May to October, a crowd gathers at the Natural Entrance to watch hundreds of thousands of bats take off for a night of insect hunting. An amphitheater in front of the Natural Entrance provides seating, and ranger programs are held each evening (exact times vary; check at the visitor center or call tel. 575/785-3012) during the bats' residence at the park (the bats winter in Mexico). The most bats will be seen in August and September, when baby bats born earlier in the summer join their parents and migrating bats from the north on the nightly forays. Early risers can also see the return of the bats just before dawn.

However, bats aren't the only wildlife at Carlsbad Caverns. The park has a surprising number of birds -- more than 300 species -- many of which are seen in the Rattlesnake Springs area. Among species you're likely to see are turkey vultures, red-tailed hawks, scaled quail, killdeer, lesser nighthawks, black-chinned hummingbirds, vermilion flycatchers, northern mockingbirds, and western meadowlarks. In addition, each summer several thousand cave swallows usually build their mud nests on the ceiling just inside the Carlsbad Cavern Natural Entrance (the bats make their home farther back in the cave).

Among the park's larger animals are mule deer and raccoons, which are sometimes spotted near the Natural Entrance at the time of the evening bat flights. The park is also home to porcupines, hog-nosed skunks, desert cottontails, black-tailed jack rabbits, rock squirrels, and the more elusive ringtails, coyotes, and gray fox. These are sometimes seen in the late evenings along the park entrance road and the Walnut Canyon Desert Drive.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.