Sunday, March 06, 2011

On the Road Again

It’s that time of year when we say goodbye to our Guadalupe River home and head North to our summer adventure in the Black Hills.  After a day spent getting the motorhome a wheel alignment and oil change, we were finally ready to hit the road.  Our first stop was at Fort Stockton, a dismal waypoint on I-10, where we spent the night at a surprisingly good RV park before heading North to Carlsbad, New Mexico for two nights.   In Carlsbad, we explored Brantley Lake State Park (big dam, little water), checked out the “Riverwalk” (nice park), and of course, spent a day at our reason for stopping, Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
We first visited Carlsbad Caverns when we lived in Tucson during the early 70s, and have always considered it the gold standard of caverns.  We had, however, forgotten that things change in 35 or so years.  They must have made the ramps and walkways steeper and the trail through the caverns longer since our last visit.  Tours through the main cavern trail and “Big Room” are now self-guided, and at the starting point we scoffed at the large signs stating “warning – strenuous trail ahead” – after all, it was all downhill, right?  Right.  After two hours of steep downhill trail, toes crammed into the front of our shoes, calves aching, knees straining, we finally made it to the “Big Room”, 800 feet below the surface.  Don’t believe it’s tough?  Try descending and 80 story building, in semi-darkness, with water on the steps making things slippery.  But we made it, and oh, what a trip it was!
We opted for the 1.25 mile self-guided tour from the “natural” entrance.  This is the where the cave was first discovered, as early settlers watched millions of bats leave the cave each night.  Looking down into the entrance gives you an idea of how the trail will look inside the cave; lots and lots of switchbacks as you descend.  Carlsbad EntranceThe caverns are immense – the ceiling soars hundreds of feet above you in places; it’s difficult to convey the size of the caverns in photos.  Just inside the entrance, millions of Mexican Freetail Bats roost during the summer, but on our visit the entrance area was home to hundreds of Cave Swallows, chirping away in the dark.  The caverns were once mined for the bat guano, a terrific fertilizer, in places up to 40’ deep,  The mental picture of how many bats it took to create 40’ of droppings is scary.
Once inside the caverns, we looked back at the entrance to see how the light, penetrating the mist rising out of the cave had formed a blue cloud.  The mist, combined with the cave lighting, made an interesting image.  If you click on the picture to expand it, you can see the railing of the trail winding into the entrance to get an idea of the huge size of the cavern. Cave Entrance from Inside
As we continued down into the cavern, there were interesting formations along the trail.  One, the “whales mouth”, provided an interesting contrast to the darkness around it.  Further down, a pond with two pillars, or stalagmites, provided an interesting contrast.  We traveled through narrow passages, open rooms, all the while amazed at the size and beauty of the formations.  Amazingly, we had the trail to ourselves, which made us wonder if we were the only ones crazy enough to take this route.  Whale's Mouth
Stalagmites in PoolAs rooms opened up, we were treated to amazing scenes of rock formations and sculptures….
Cave View
Cave View2
Cave View3Cave View4Eventually, we made it to the Big Room and the elevators to the surface.  Although we had originally planned to continue, sore toes and aching legs said “enough”, and we opted for a ride to the surface and a lunch at the visitor center cafe.
If you’re ever in the area, don’t miss this park, it’s a one of a kind wonder that you’ll always remember.  We’ll be back some day to take the Big Room tour and hopefully one of the Ranger-guided tours some day.  For now, we’re headed north again, this time up to Roswell for a short stay.  Come back and see how we’re doing!

1 comment:

  1. Great pics brought back wonderful memories of our time there. We even adopted a bat! LOL! Went back in the evening to watch them all spiral out of the cave..it was awesome!

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