Carlsbad Caverns

Trip Start Nov 22, 2007
Trip End Dec 01, 2008

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Flag of United States  , New Mexico
Sunday, April 6, 2008

Carlsbad Caverns

We left Galveston and headed west to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. This park is pretty remotely located. In fact, it is just over the border of Texas in New Mexico (about 16 miles in), and it is a further 20 miles to the city of Carlsbad that gives the park its name. There is a small town right outside the park called White's City-if I had to guess, I'd estimate the population at about 500 or less. All there is to White's City is two small strips of buildings with old west facades which house a grocery, a post office, a hotel, and a gas station with exorbitant prices. There's also a restaurant and "saloon," and The Million Dollar Museum complete with a two-headed rattlesnake, dolls and doll houses, and an arcade (bummer this was closed when we got there-I really wanted to see that two-headed rattlesnake!). Up behind the buildings is a run down RV park where you can stay for $20 per night, but you are lucky to find a site with the hook ups all working. But this is the only gig in town, and it's very convenient to the caverns.

As you approach White's City along the state road, you get a sense of a bygone era when perhaps more visitors found their way there. You can see a series of old signs, in disrepair with faded paint and rotted wood, exclaiming the all the "attractions" of White's City-You're Almost There! I imagine a family vacation in the old station wagon circa 1950, when this was a "destination." Today, it is a stop over for day trippers and RVer's on their way to the "bigger" and "better" national parks or other attractions that have the economy to support the types of amenities that today's traveling America demands. But, you can't change the location of a natural wonder-remote it is and remote it likely shall remain since there really is nothing else around in this part of the Chihuahua Desert to attract investment.

Nonetheless it is worth the day or two visit to see some of the most varied natural underground geologic formations in the world. These caverns are actually part of a mountain range that millions of years ago was a reef beneath the sea. The caverns were cut not by wind or water, but by sulfuric acid, which adds to their uniqueness. You can take the self-guided tour through the Natural Entrance and then down into the Big Room, which together take about 3-4 hours. If you are feeling adventurous, you can tour other caves with a guide in limited groups and get a taste for spelunking. Wild caving also is available for those who want to spend 4 hours underground climbing and crawling around in muck and squeezing through tight tunnels. While we are adventurous by nature, I am partial to open spaces, so we did the Natural Entrance and Big Room tours. We took lots of pictures, but without a tripod and a better working knowledge of our new digital SLR, our ability to really capture the grandness and texture of nature's sculptures was limited. Hopefully you can get a sense of some of what we saw. I had not experienced a cavern tour before, so it was pretty incredible for me. Bob has been to Loray (sp?) Caverns in Virginia and thought they were more colorful, although Carlsbad's formations were more diverse and numerous.

Carlsbad Caverns is also known for its bats-which number, by some counts, over 2 million in the summer, but officially number about 300,000. Each evening you can sit outside the Natural Entrance of the caverns and watch the bats leave the cave altogether in a swarm. They return at dawn. We sure would have liked to have seen that, but the bats migrate from the south between April and May and we were too early in the season for them.

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