New Mexico : Safety by City
- Elephant Butte
- Las Cruces
- Los Alamos
- Red River
- Rio Rancho
- Santa Fe
- Silver City
- Truth or Consequences
Carlsbad, New Mexico, is famous for things that are underground.
One is nuclear waste that is stored 2,000 feet below the earth about 30 miles away.
The other is what earned Carlsbad the nickname “The Cavern City,” and that’s Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
Beyond the subterranean wonders, Carlsbad offers an array of outdoor activities to enjoy.
The nearby Guadalupe Mountains provide excellent hiking in the pristine backcountry.
The area is renowned for camping, mountain biking, birdwatching and rock climbing amid stunning desert scenery.
The town of 32,000 has grown by 25% in the past decade thanks to the Permian Basin, a gas and oil region that has become the “Gold Rush” of this century.
Harvesting the earth below is nothing new here.
Carlsbad emerged as an economic center in the late 1800s for ranching, mining, and transportation.
It’s located on the Pecos River in the Chihuahuan Desert, providing water for agriculture and now doubles down as a long stretch of recreation areas and parks, several with sandy beaches!
Carlsbad is going through growing pains, with a small town being taken over by big industries and threatening that charming “everyone knows everyone” way of life.
The surge in economic funding is also creating new platforms for attractions as more people seek out these remote and beautiful parts of the United States.
Warnings & Dangers in Carlsbad
OVERALL RISK : LOW
There's a low risk based on the number of things to do in safe places, but enough crime that you shouldn't let your guard down.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
Carlsbad Municipal Transit System has routes throughout the town. Taxis and rideshares will be easy to find. Rental cars will give you more flexibility to explore the nearby attractions.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
This is a low risk, with just four purse snatching reported in the past five years. You should always bring only what you need, and don't leave your bags lying around at the beach if you're going into the water. I always carry a waterproof bag for my phone, a small wallet, and keys.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
This is a medium risk because the weather here can be intense. Damaging winds, tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, and wildfires are possible. Winter usually isn't that bad, but even a light glaze of snow or ice can make the roads dangerous. There is also a concern about earthquakes due to fracking. In 2021, there were 12 minor earthquakes.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
Robberies usually number 14 or less in town, with just seven reported in 2021. It's a low risk, but one that could change as the town expands.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
With a nuclear waste facility nearby, there's always a risk of a terror attack that could devastate this region. However, there's more security protecting the site and the city than you'll ever realize. Even the routes and schedules trucks and trains use to transport the waste are kept a big secret.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
Scams here target residents with common utility and fake police officer scams. You can check the police department's social media sites before your visit to see if there are new scams trending.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
Women should use all the standard precautions here, and it's especially important to ask at your hotel about safe nightclub or bar options. There could be places that are more for "roughnecks" who work in the oil fields and others that provide a calmer aesthetic. I don't want to give you the names of those places now because so many new businesses are opening up while others close that the information would quickly become outdated.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The 2022 Water Quality Report shows full compliance and no violations. Of course, it's natural to wonder if the water is *really safe since it's so close to nuclear waste. You can review the report on the city's website and ask any follow-up questions using the contact information provided. However, elaborate steps have been taken to keep the water clean.
Safest Places to Visit in Carlsbad
CarlsbadNewMexico.com is the tourism website for the region, which should not be confused with the city’s website, cityofcarlsbadnm.com.
You also want to make sure you’re not looking at Carlsbad, California.
By far, the main attraction nearby is Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
The NPS website has all the information you need for a safe and enjoyable experience.
You can tour the caves, and visitors from April through October can watch the nightly bat explosions from the caves as they go in search of dinner (aka bugs).
Desert hikes are also available.
Reservations to the park are strongly recommended, as visitor crowds have surged since the pandemic.
The Carlsbad Museum has been in place since 1931, and it’s a wonderful way to learn about the history of the region.
Rotating exhibits change throughout the year.
You can see the newest options on the museum’s website.
The Artist Galley is a collection of painted, handmade, and uniquely crafted artwork by local artists.
You can view the gallery or buy some items that reflect the diversity of the region.
Families flock to the white sand beach of Lake Carlsbad to soak in the sun and play in the calm waters.
Picnic areas dotted with shade trees provide a place to relax.
At sundown, stunning views of the rolling hills surrounding the glistening lake and stargazing are amazing after hours.
I’m always a little weird about getting into freshwater unless I know the water quality readings, and Carlsbad has a great waterpark right next door to the beach where you can splash around in clean water.
Five waterslides and two speedy slides are available.
There’s also a lazy river and a children’s play area for extra safety.
The Carlsbad Labyrinth opened in 2017, spanning 40 feet with a stunning view of the river.
It was inspired by the Chartres Cathedral in France.
Discover the beauty of the Chihuahuan Desert at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park.
Wander through natural habitats like desert scrub and riparian wetlands to encounter native wildlife like roadrunners, antelopes, and wolves.
Marvel at spectacular cacti and other succulents in the extensive botanical gardens.
Enjoy the hands-on exhibits in the Earth Sciences Center.
For another water view, head a short distance to Lincoln National Forest, where Sitting Bull Falls Recreation Area is located.
One of the most popular waterfalls in the state is located here.
While the trail will be crowded on a hot day, you can explore the top and bottom of the waterfall.
Places to Avoid in Carlsbad
The highest crime rates are in the areas south of Greene Street and west of Boyd Drive.
Neighborhoods can also be hit-or-miss with safety by the block.
It’s best to stay out of the neighborhoods and only use main roads to get to the destinations and attractions.
As the city grows, there’s hope that the blighted areas get rebuilt, but there’s always a chance more neighborhoods could go downhill.
However, believe me when I say that you’ll know you’re in a rundown area here.
There’s a railroad bridge near Riverview Park, and it’s off-limits.
Regardless, dozens of people still cross the tracks to this day.
It’s a frustrating point for law enforcement, and you should know it’s still an active freight train route.
Just avoid it.
It might go without saying, but just in case — stay away from the nuclear waste plant known as WIPP.
The access roads will have big warning signs about how it’s off-limits to the public.
They aren’t going to let you come in and see how nuclear waste is dumped, okay?
Safety Tips for Traveling to Carlsbad
- Carlsbad does have its own police department. You can email them with specific questions at email@example.com or call (575) 885-2111. The department has a Facebook page, but just make sure you’re on the Carlsbad, New Mexico, site and not the Carlsbad, California, site.
- Sign up for emergency alerts through Smart911 for Eddy County. This will cover any severe weather, natural disaster, or hazmat situation. You can also sign up for Alert Me emails through the county website.
- Carlsbad has tornado sirens, but the tones mean different things. A steady tone that rings for three minutes means there’s a severe weather watch. A tone that is “wailing,” meaning the sound goes high and low, means a much more serious tornado warning or severe thunderstorm warning has been issued. Seek shelter immediately. A longer but similarly sounding tone is used when there’s a hazardous materials incident.
- With a lot of growth in Carlsbad, there will be ongoing infrastructure improvements and roadwork. That means street closures. You should check the city’s Facebook page @CityofCarlsbadGov daily to see if there are roads closed on your route.
- Spring brings intense winds to this part of New Mexico. I don’t mean a gentle breeze. I mean really annoying, sometimes dangerous winds. I didn’t know how rugged tumbleweeds were until one got trapped under my car on an Arizona interstate. The threat of high winds can even shut down businesses and close roads.
- Follow the NM Fire Info website to see fire risk levels and check for wildfires burning nearby. When a wildfire and winds mix, fires can spread fast.
- When visiting nearby waterfalls, wilderness areas, and caverns, don’t wear flip-flops or sandals. Rocks are always more slippery than they look. I couldn’t help but laugh at my 13-year-old self coming across a slick spot at Meramec Caverns back in the day, and I said, “Watch out… it’s sliiiiiiiiiiiiipery” as I tumbled down the rocks. Only my ego was bruised, but it could’ve been worse.
- Javaelina’s are wild boars that roam this area, and they look somewhat sweet but also kinda scary. Their personality matches that. Never approach javelinas or try to get them out of your way. They are pretty obtuse but can turn on you and aggressively charge. You’d be amazed at how fast they can run, too!
- When heavy rain sweeps across this area, flash flooding can happen quickly. In fact, in August 2022, 200 people had to be rescued from Carlsbad Caverns after a flash flood. Don’t ever drive through a flooded road. Find a detour or wait until the waters recede.
- If you visit the Project Gnome site, where an underground nuclear test was conducted in 1961, do not dig into the ground. The site is not that exciting, with just a historical marker and a concrete structure, but history buffs are drawn to it. The issue with digging is that any object you dig up could be radioactive.
So... How Safe Is Carlsbad Really?
Carlsbad is somewhere in the middle between the safest cities and the most dangerous cities.
I can go through crime data from 2021 (the latest year when it was released), but there’s more to discuss after.
The violent crime rate is 18% higher than the national average but still 40% lower than the New Mexico average, but just 12% of violent crimes happened against strangers in 2021.
Over the past five years, 38% of thefts were car break-ins.
That’s a great reminder to lock your vehicle every time you park it (even if just for a few minutes) and never leave personal items inside.
By the time you get to Carlsbad, the landscape could change.
Right now, it’s a town of retirees and oil workers, but as the Permian Basin is fracked for oil and natural gas, the population, cost of living, and amenities could change.
The small towns of Texas and New Mexico near the basin are suffering from large population surges and temporary workers.
That is driving up the cost of living and running some people who once lived a comfortable life out of town.
Locals who love the small-town atmosphere are frustrated with the newfound traffic and crowds.
The state is reeling with billions of dollars in increased revenue, which could fund more law enforcement and amenities.
What will the surge in economic drivers and the population mean for crime rates?
That remains to be seen.
Regardless, a visitor still has a lot of safe options in a unique part of the United States.
How Does Carlsbad Compare?
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- Visas - If you're coming from outside the United States, you'll need a visa or visa waiver to get through Customs and Border Patrol. That will be paired with your valid passport that isn't within six months of expiring. Start the processes early, as there are delays that can last several months.
- Currency - You can only use the U.S. Dollar here. You want to avoid using the paycheck cashing and quick cash locations here to do currency exchange, as that can be costly. If you use your home bank, you'll get the lowest fees.
- Weather - Bring lightweight clothing, sunscreen, and a hat since it will be hot. Even winters stay in the 60s (F) most of the time. Pack comfy shoes and a hoodie for exploring the caverns because it's 56°(F) year-round. Don't forget your swimsuit for the water park and a jacket for the cool evenings. Sunscreen and sunglasses are a must in the blistering sun of New Mexico.
- Airports - Boutique Airlines has flights out of the Carlsbad City Air Terminal, with flights to Albuquerque and Dallas. El Paso's International Airport is less than three hours by car. Reaching ABQ will take at least four hours on the road.
- Travel Insurance - Travel insurance is a smart idea, and choose a comprehensive plan to cover every "what if?". With a lot of driving here, you should confirm you have full rental car coverage for accidents or breakdowns.
Carlsbad Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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