Down to the Bowels of Hell!

Trip Start Sep 20, 2007
Trip End May 16, 2008

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Flag of United States  , New Mexico
Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Up at the crack of dawn. Drive for 4 hours. Spend 4 hours touring a Cavern. Start over!
It was downhill all the way. The road from Fort Davis towards I-10 twists and turns, and not so gradually, descends. I had to drive on the Interstate for about 5 minutes before continuing my journey north. I'm not sure if the whole Interstate road network in Texas is like this, but in this stretch the posted speed limit was 80 mph. I am definitely glad that I made a point of skipping the Interstate in Texas. There's no way I would come close to driving at that speed pulling the trailer. The trailer isn't stable when I get over 70.
Once I'm off the Interstate and heading towards New Mexico I have a thought. I'm driving the final hour through Texas and I haven't seen any indications of the land based Oil Industry. Houston is the USA's Oil Capital. I had seen the offshore drilling rigs, but no pump jacks, drilling rigs and other indications that oil exists in this state. Within 5 minutes of this thought I saw the first of many pump jacks. I also saw a drilling rig and then about a dozen trucks carrying fracturing equipment passed me heading towards the rig, indications that the drilling rig had found oil.
Passing into New Mexico and it was time to reset my clocks. I am back in the Mountain Time zone. Inching closer (on the map) to home.
I arrive at the KOA that is situated about 15 miles north of Carlsbad. The caverns are situated 20 miles south. This KOA is only 6 years old. Everything is shiny and new. A major change from the campgrounds I've been in lately. During the final part of my drive, especially when I had to drive completely through Carlsbad, I was thinking of skipping the caverns and taking a breather from touring. After setting up at the campground I check my email and have received an email from Bob, the Geology Professor. I had indicated where I was heading and that I had already seen two caverns and might not see the ones in Carlsbad. He said these were grander then the two Natural Bridge Caverns. Something not to miss. You can check out their website if you like to know
Having gained an hour with the time change it was 11h00 when I had arrived. The Cavern information said the last entry was at 2 O'clock if you wanted to walk down from the Natural Entrance or 3h30 if you took the elevator down to the "Big Room". There were also other options for the area. I could also go see the Living Desert State Park, Sitting Bull Falls, or the Pecos Riverwalk . I opted for the Caverns.
They are in the middle of expanding the visitor center at the Caverns so everything above ground is housed in trailers. There are a few cars parked in the visitor lot. I buy a ticket and decide to walk the 800 foot descent and 1 mile route down to the "Big Room". I have to detour around the construction to get to the Natural Entrance. There I meet up with a Park Ranger who sets the ground rules for the visit...Do not touch any of the rock formations, keep quiet, be careful as the paths are slippery, and do not stray from the paths. He mentions that there are very few visitors making the walk down today.
The Natural Cave Entrance is enormous. You have to zigzag down this steep walkway to get inside the cave. Unlike the other caverns I was in, here I could take flash photography. Not that it would do much good in the huge caverns. Natural lighting makes for better photos. I should have brought my tripod instead of just the monopod.
They say that it should take from 1 to 1.5 hours to make your way down to the "Big Room". It took me 2 hours. I couldn't help but stop and examine as much of the cave as possible. It was such a breathtaking site. Those who took the elevator down were missing so much. Others, coming after me, zoomed by. Not taking the time to fully digest the significance of what they were seeing.
It took millions of years for these caverns to form. "Modern Man" has been around for a fraction of this time. It took millions of years for the modern human form to evolve. Then for some strange reason evolution took a giant leap forward. Currently, as in the past hundred years, modern man has taken the steps for another giant leap forward in evolution. The past hundred years might seem long to all of us living on the earth at this time, but in the grand scale of evolution it is but a tiny fraction.
After my 800 foot descent and 1 mile stroll down the pathways, I arrive at the "Big Room". There are a few more people here. I continue my leisurely stroll around the perimeter of this 8.2 acre cavern. Others are constantly passing me by. The over-whelming beauty of the Big Room impinges on my soul. It strikes a chord on my very being. I have a hard time absorbing it all. The significance of what I am seeing.
At one point a couple ahead of me stop a passing Ranger and asks them about the "dirty" look of the cavern. In the low lighting conditions the cavern looks grey. The man indicates that he's been in other caverns and they don't look as "dirty". The Ranger explains that this cavern is different because of the type of soil above the cavern. The dissipation of the moisture onto the limestone causes that colour. I found the Ranger's explanation misleading. In my pictures you can see when I don't use the flash the natural colours of the limestone come out. What our eyes perceive in the dark as grey matter is actually green in colour. Green, which I would associate with the fungus that grows from the constant presence of humans in the caverns.
As I was walking down from the Natural Entrance I noticed that the "grey" colour was not as prominent, most likely due to less people taking that route. My observations also take into account the information provided to me during my tours in the other caves. I'm no expert in this field but I am quite sure the Rangers explanation was incorrect. How often in life do we take what someone tells us as factual? We automatically assume that they are well informed due to the position they hold.
It took me over two hours to walk the path around the "Big Room". I would have stayed longer, but they were kicking everyone out. I was one of the last to leave. Another individual on the elevator up asked that Ranger what they did at closing to ensure no one was left in the cavern. A few Rangers walk around the main paths and direct people to the exit. Once they are sure everyone has left they close all the lights. There are stories where once they have shut all the lights that they hear screams coming from the caverns. Someone in the caverns who has not listened to the instructions and have strayed from the paths, and the final Ranger sweep missed them.
If you are ever in south east New Mexico make sure you make the detour and stop in and see the Caverns. It is definitely a natural wonder of the world. Do not rush through but take the time to really see them.
Another early morning tomorrow. Drive and tour day. To Roswell to visit the UFO Museum and then up, and up, and almost over the continental divide. Yesterday, at the McDonald Observatory my sign post indicated that I should make a stop and see the Very Large Array Radio Telescope (VLA) on the Plains of San Agustin. More on the VLA tomorrow.
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