Can You Come Back In If Leave Carlsbad Flower Fields Unintended Consequences of Lights in Carlsbad Caverns

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Unintended Consequences of Lights in Carlsbad Caverns

Being so used to almost everywhere being lit up so people can see their way, I didn’t think much of lighting up the United States’ greatest underground natural wonders. My first trip through the Great Room of Carlsbad Caverns was on Thanksgiving Day. We arrived shortly after this incredible natural wonder opened to the public. Because there were so few people there, we were only able to have parts of the trail in the Great Room of Carlsbad Caverns for a few minutes.

It took a few minutes for our eyes to adjust, especially my companion who has cataract surgery in a few months. The lighting was subdued. In some places it seemed that there had once been lights that were now either out or out. Wherever we could see, we stood in awe of the amazing natural plants hanging from the ceiling or coming out of the ground.

Since most people were at home preparing for their Thanksgiving meal, we were able to have some long conversations with the various park rangers walking this vast underground wonder. One of our questions was about lighting.

The security guard told us that the lighting setup was designed by a theater expert. There used to be much larger and brighter lights spread throughout the Great Room. After some time, unwanted consequences were noticed. Green algae started to appear on the walls. This didn’t happen before because the Carlsbad Caverns were completely dark before people wanted to see what was inside. Earlier explorers came with oil lamps or helmet lamps worn by miners. These did not cause algal growth.

To prevent green growth on the wet walls of Carlsbad Caverns, some light bulbs were turned off and others dimmed. While this has reduced the algae growth, it has also reduced what you can see. If you thought about it, you would take a high intensity lamp. This is strongly recommended on some guided tours where the trails are completely dark.

In the following years, the park service will install LED lighting. These do not encourage algae growth and will last longer than now. The park ranger explained that there will be many more natural wonders to see and that the LEDs will allow Carlsbad Caverns to remain in a more natural state…if you reject the fact that “natural” means pitch black.

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