The history of the Carlsbad Caverns, like most stories, can be understood from different perspectives. The modern history of the caves starts with them being set aside as national treasures and as part of the National Park system in the early 20th Century. Prior to that era, the Mexicans and, before them, the Spanish ruled the area. The Native Americans left their mark, as well, with some of the artifacts found in the area dating back as far as 14,000 years. If one takes the geological perspective, the history of these caves spans back as far as 280 million years, when New Mexico looked more like the coastal US.
The Carlsbad Caverns National Park was set aside in 1930. Prior to that, it was made a National Monument in 1923. The caverns were known to locals for quite a long time before they were officially set aside. The caves were used as a source of bat guano early in the 20th Century. The first person to explore these caverns extensively in the modern age was Jim White, a local of the area. He used homemade tools and engaged in extensive spelunking of the caverns. It is from White that most of the cave features received their present names.
The Carlsbad Caverns, however, were around long before humans ever set eyes upon them. These caves are part of a geological feature called the Delaware Basin. This area is not only known for its caverns but for being a huge oil field. This area is interesting for the way in which the caves characteristic of the basin formed. While most limestone caves, such as Carlsbad Caverns, are formed by groundwater, there were very acidic conditions that helped form these caverns. Geological activity freed brine that mixed with other elements to form sulfuric acid, one of the most powerful acids commonly seen, which formed the caves. Some of the most striking features in the caverns wouldn’t be possible without the corrosive action of this acid.
Native American artifacts have been found scattered around the caves and the local environs. Presently, the park has 1,000,000 cultural resources—items which were used or manufactured by ancient peoples—in storage and being preserved for the future.. Even though the caves had been in existence for hundreds of millions of years before their exploration, Jim White actually had trouble convincing people they existed!