Apparently, I visited Carlsbad Caverns during its slow season--between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Of course, the caverns are very dark, so I knew that a tripod would be required to capture any decent photographs. Fortunately, tripods are allowed throughout much of the cavern.
However, tripods are not allowed in certain caverns--especially the ones that are accessible only through a guided tour. I think the concern is that photographers with tripods will get in the way of the tour participants and slow things down.
Rather than take the elevator down to the main cavern, I decided to walk through the natural entrance and hike the 1 1/4 mile, well maintained path, 800 feet down to the main cavern. I'm glad I did as there is much to see along the way.
As I was approaching the natural entrance, a ranger greeted me and asked to see my entrance pass. He asked me if I planned to take the 1.5 hour Kings Palace tour later that day. I asked him if I would be able to use my tripod on that tour. He replied that tripods are not allowed, but since he was leading that tour and the crowds were so thin, he might be able to make an exception. He said that if I made it back up to the Visitor Center by 2:00 pm, I could check with him again about the tripod before the tour got started.
It took me a few hours to work my way through the natural entrance and down to the main cavern as there was much to photograph. I reached the lower elevators by 1:45 pm and quickly made my way back to the Visitor Center to check in with the ranger. He granted permission for me to shoot with the tripod!
Although there were only about 250 visitors in the Caverns that entire day (which I guess is a very low number), there were still enough people on the guided tour to make photography difficult. Of course, most people were oblivious to my camera. They would walk in front of the lens toward the end of very long exposures or would destroy my pictures by flashing the scene in the middle of my exposure.
The ranger noticed the difficulties that I was experiencing. He approached me and suggested the following solution. The ranger would lead the group. I would be the trailer. So, as the entire group would leave one room to enter another, the ranger would let me trail behind to have the cavern to myself for five or ten minutes. Then, I would catch up and we would repeat the process through the four rooms included in the tour! This allowed me to capture images that only other rangers would have access to capture.
At the end of the tour, the ranger temporarily forgot that I was trailing the group--and nearly locked the gate at the exit of the last room. If I hadn't caught up just in time, or the ranger hadn't remembered me, I would have spent the night 800 feet below the ground in complete darkness!
Once the tour was over, I spent a couple of more hours in the main cavern. As the cavern neared its closing time (5 pm), it became evident that I was the only one left down there. A ranger was doing one last sweep of the trail. He came up behind me and told me it was time to leave. We walked for ten or fifteen minutes together towards the elevators while he allowed me to stop occasionally for a few last photographs. Then, the two of us got on the elevator and left an empty Carlsbad Caverns behind for that December evening.