White's City, New Mexico
This is everyone's idea of what a cave SHOULD be: quiet, clean, dry, flat, full of fantastic formations, high ceilings, and good lighting. It is the most uncavelike cave in America, which is probably why it's so popular. The one-mile self-guided path through the sprawling, 14-acre Big Room is perfect for mallwalking seniors.
There is no gum for sale anywhere on the property, and the tour guides make a point of having everyone spit out their gum before they enter the high-speed elevator down into the cave. "To keep from attracting animals into the cave in search of food," we are told.
Then, the first thing that we see when we get out of the elevator, 750 feet below ground, is an 8,000-seat "Underground Lunchroom"!
"The cleanest cafeteria in the world," the counterman assures us. "We clean everything in this place every night." So the animals here only eat gum? And they only come into the cave to eat at night? Frankly, if we were an animal in the blistering heat of Carlsbad, we'd come down here at noon and eat a sandwich.
In the Carlsbad Cavern's gift shop, the old shot glass souvenirs have been filled with wax and turned into holders for scented candles. Such is the fate of tourist attractions that are also World Heritage Sites.