Underground and Alien Exploration

Trip Start Mar 01, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Carlsbad RV Park and campground

Flag of United States  , New Mexico
Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Literally the minute we crossed the Texas/New Mexico state line on Good Friday, the landscape changed. What was relatively flat and open immediately turned into a more rolling horizon that didn't seem quite as rocky as Texas. We could see mountains in the far distance and even the grade of the road changed. However, even with the slightly hilly landscape, it was still rather open. Most of the plant life was low growing shrubs; trees were mainly clustered around houses for shade.

We passed through two little towns on the way to Carlsbad, and finally reached Carlsbad RV Park and Campground. Twenty years ago, the campground was a KOA, but KOA apparently was run out of town (for reasons unknown to us) and this site was for sale for years before being bought a little over a year ago and renovated. KOA, desperate to get back into the area, opened a park about 20 miles north, but are further away from Carlsbad Caverns. The campground we stayed at has a wonderful store and laundry area, a swingset (tall poles and long chains for wonderful swinging), playground, arcade, and indoor swimming pool. It is definitely kid-friendly, but I spent my fair share of time on the swings; I even managed to climb a tree during our stay.

Saturday, March 26, we headed to Carlsbad Caverns. The day was bright, but breezy, so we dressed warmly. We also took our hats (I brought gloves, too) because the temperature in the caverns holds steady at 57 or 58 degrees. Although we both began the hike through the caverns with our winter gear on, by the end, our hats (and my gloves) were gone and we were quite comfortable. The drive into the park was about eight miles long and took us into the Guadalupe Mountains through some of the most beautiful scenery. Soaring cliffs dropped into basins where prickly pear cacti, yucca, and mountain laurel (among other desert life) grew. The road wound down and the suddenly up to the top of the chain. The National Parks Center at the top was adjacent to housing used by the CCC during FDR's administration and the establishment of many national parks. In the center, we learned that American Indians were aware of the existence of the caverns for centuries. In the 1800s, settlers were drawn to the caverns by the bats which rise from it during summer evenings to feed. (Unfortunately, we arrived too early in the year to witness this event which occurs from mid-April to late October.) Bat guano was mined from the caverns for fertilizer and people began exploring the cave system. Jim White and Ray Davis popularized Carlsbad Caverns through black and white photographs of the magnificent underground formations. In 1923, Carlsbad Cavern was declared a national monument and in 1930 was expanded to form Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

After securing our tickets (by activating our National Parks Pass which gained us free entry), we headed out the door and down the trail to the mouth of the cave. Entrance to the cavern was segmented into groups of about 25 people; each group was treated to a lecture from a park ranger about proper cavern etiquette (remain quiet; no food or drink; don't touch anything; photography allowed). Then it was into the cavern. The trail passed the Bat Flight Amphitheater where visitors can sit and watch the bat flight during the summer. Then it was down numerous switchbacks about 15 feet long each that descended into the twilight of the cavern. The descent itself was the most spectacular thing; the movement from open-aired, bright daylight into the large, contained, moist cavern was the quickest change of environment in the smallest space I have ever experienced. About 500 feet into the cavern, Ed told me to look back at the mist rising from the cave into the daylight. That was the last time we saw daylight for over two hours.

The formations we saw in Carlsbad Caverns were amazing. Some were dangling stalactites; others were soaring stalagmites. There were also soda straws, draperies, columns, popcorn, cave pearls, and lily pads (all rock formations) with names like Witches Finger, the Boneyard, the Giant and Twin Domes, and the Whale's Mouth. At one point, we walked around Iceberg Rock, a 200,000 ton boulder that fell from the ceiling thousands of years ago. You can still see how the boulder fit into the top of the cavern. There is also a Bottomless Pit, named so because early explorers couldn't find the bottom. Actually, the pit is only 140 feet deep, but does look bottomless given the darkness of the cave. While many of the formations are no longer growing, there are also many that still shine with wetness from the dripping water that forms them.

Describing all of the structures in Carlsbad Caverns is very frustrating for me. Words are my playground and rarely am I not able to apply the right words (at least on paper) to aptly illustrate my subject. However, I am at a complete loss for the words that would properly manifest the beauty and reverence that Carlsbad Caverns demands from its visitor. So, I apologize, dear Reader, and encourage you to visit the area yourself.

By the time we reached the end of the tours (we hiked the Natural Entrance and the Big Room), Ed and I were famished. This is a state that many visitors must reach because at the end of the trail, 750 feet below the earth's surface, is a café. Ed and I both got a sandwich and split a drink, then wandered around the gift shop stuff. Then it was into the elevator for a quick ride back to the surface. Topside, we discovered that the weather was entirely different from when we descended. The wind was very cold and blowing about 20 mph, and the sun was obscured by clouds that promised rain. We dashed back to the truck, both of us worried about Bandit and about the leak that had developed in our bed slide (pulling a camper along bouncy roads at high speeds can cause pesky leaks and such). We made it back before the rain really hit, and pulled the slide in for protection. After the rain quit, we went into the town for supper. We stopped at Danny's Barbeque and Family Restaurant where we each got a barbeque sandwich (ok, Ed got two). Then we returned to the camper and collapsed.

Easter Sunday was again sunny, and a bit warmer than the day before. As such, Ed and I spent the day cleaning and repairing. We washed clothes, and I pulled the rugs up and washed them as well. The whole camper was swept and mopped, and every surface wiped down with 409. Ed climbed the ladder to find the leak and then applied caulk to the area to seal it. That evening, we drove into Carlsbad (the town) and treated ourselves to an Easter supper of ribeye steaks, mashed potatoes, and fresh veggies. After our fabulous Easter meal, we visited Wal-Mart and patched holes in our grocery supplies. It's hard to stay stocked when your pantry consists of four shelves and one 24 inch wide by 12 inch high by 24 inch deep cubby hole.

Monday morning, Ed and I got up early and headed north to Roswell - yes, the site of the infamous 1947 UFO crash. The town itself is quite nice and modern. As we drove into the downtown area, we could definitely tell that much of the town's income focused on UFO-based tourism. There were several alien gift shops along the main street and the streetlamps were alien heads with large black eyes. We visited the UFO Museum and Research Center. The displays included a timeline of that fateful crash, implications of the government cover-up, models of the alien bodies and autopsy, and information regarding close encounters and abductions. It took us about an hour and a half to get through the museum, then it was into the gift shop where we actually bought something: a glow in the dark alien for each of us.

After that, we stopped at a Penzoil service station and had our oil changed. However, they didn't check tires, so we also stopped at Wal-Mart (again) on our way back into Carlsbad. The truck developed a slow leak in one of its tires, so we had it checked and patched, and had our tires rotated. Then it was home (back to the camper) for supper and to straighten up in preparation for our drive to Deming, NM, to overnight before hitting Arizona.
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