Carlsbad, a warm and lively city in southeast New Mexico, is a wonderland for vacationers. There are, as the restive kids would say, things to do in and around Carlsbad.

First, of course, there are the world-famous Carlsbad Caverns, the colorful, fantastic underground chambers that have been delighting tourists and locals for more than 80 years.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, created in 1930, is open every day except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day. Visitors to the cave can hike in via the natural entrance or take an elevator from the visitor center. The park is surrounded by White City, named for Jim White, the discoverer and explorer of the caverns. It was White who gave the most famous chambers their names—he dubbed them the Big Room, New Mexico Room, Kings Palace, Queens Chamber, Papoose Room and Green Lake Room. He also named many of the cave’s more breathtaking formations: the Totem Pole, Witch's Finger, Giant Dome, Bottomless Pit, Fairyland, Iceberg Rock, Temple of the Sun, and Rock of Ages.

Star parties, with telescope access and programs about the night sky, are hosted by the park,  often in conjunction with special astronomical events, such as a transit of Venus.

And there are the bats—17 species of which swarm out of and back into the bat cave daily. A program is given in the early evening at the amphitheater near the main entrance prior to the start of the flight, which varies with the sunset time. These programs are an excellent chance to learn about these useful little critters. Flight programs run from Memorial Day weekend through the middle of October. Once a year, a predawn bat-flight breakfast is held where visitors can eat breakfast at the park prior to the morning return of bats.

If regional flora and fauna delight you, schedule a visit to Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park, a native wildlife zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums that exhibits more than 40 species of animals and hundreds of species of plants native to the Chihuahuan Desert. While on the 1.3-mile, self-guided tour, you can explore Birds to Bison, a walk-through aviary; Never Cry Wolf, the habitat for endangered Mexican gray wolves, and the greenhouse where hundreds of succulents and cacti thrive. Go early—on the hottest afternoons, the animals tend to seek cool spots that make them harder to see.

Carlsbad, named for the Czech spa, is a river town. The Pecos runs through and in fact is the only river that “crosses itself,” thanks to the flume created by water-managers a century ago. Riverside villas are prized and decorated beautifully during the winter holidays for the river cruising extravaganza called “Christmas on the Pecos.” It’s a homegrown event that brings out all the hospitable wit and charm of Carlsbad.