The caverns are amazing, obviously. We’d thought of them as the largest in the world, and though they possess only the seventh largest chamber, not the first, they are still huge and require quite the lengthy hike down
. They claim to use only light that accentuates the cave’s natural color, but Kuntz scoffs at this, saying that artificial light always offers color, and that it is impossible to know the cave’s true color if it’s always shrouded in total darkness. Fair play, Kuntz. It all reminds you of a Disneyland attraction, with the stalactites, popcorn, and crystal tubes jutting and abutting in all directions, water slithering down, plopping in iridescent pools, eroding the travertine and limestone in flattened surfaces which resemble brain cross sections. It’s cool, too, to imagine these caves as a drained ocean floor, with all the karsts and such resembling blanched, gothic coral. In a sense, maybe you can think of snorkeling like listening to Saint-Saens, spelunking like Chopin, and if you blend them together somehow, you’ve got Nino Rota. No, that’s just nonsensical showboating, but I really do love that nature can present to you two ecosystems so completely unrelated, yet with a hasty glance, rather similar, too. There’s a lot of bat poop here, too, and it smells like new cars. Oh, and there’s this really amazing little formation that they call the Doll’s Theater – I mean, it’s really tiny, and you could miss it, just a little opening in a wall – that has hundreds of slender, bony stalagmites that look like lacy ribbons dangling from the top of a proscenium, surrounding a couple of very small, bumpy, faceless figures frozen in the midst of some Transylvanian opera
. I was very taken by this, and could consider it one of the most eerie, beautiful, inventive pieces of art I’ve ever seen, were we to consider it as such. Okay, let’s.
The Beard, meanwhile, is playing quite the dance in the dark, for whenever he takes out his guitar to strum a few notes – which, I might add, carry throughout the cave for hundreds of feet and really give the whole scene a marvelous chill – he gets flack from one park ranger or another. This happens maybe four or five times, and he opts to keep playing twice, then is encouraged by us on other occasions, too, until a repeated ranger catches him again and kicks him out. Yes, The Beard got kicked out of the Carlsbad Caverns. What kind of amazing claim is that? I mean, wow, I’m truly proud of it, and I hope that he is too; she (the ranger) follows him all the way out, and detains him in a secret room, grilling him on his malfeasance, bullying him for being completely disrespectful (fair) of a rule that is there for reasons she can’t completely justify (inane). Oh well, no punishment received, no harm done, and after I make a poopie in a bathroom encased in Star Trek Stone 350 feet underground we all meet up once again and have a little laugh.
Cornbread finds a burrito somewhere and eats it as we drive to Roswell, which is only a few hours north and as superficially worthless a destination as one can hope for (I say that assuming you don’t enjoy innocuous alien-themed gift shops)
. We really leave nary a blink for the place, though, so my assessment is unfair, and anyway the town, bigger than you’d expect and full of national chain restaurants and retail stores, offers us a pretty solid Mexican restaurant. We get horchatas or Coronitas and $3 burritos, all fat with steak and little else, and it’s fun because the waitress doesn’t understand a word of English, but feigns it throughout our order, then makes the owner come out and retake the entire order before sheepishly murmuring a “sorry” to Cornbread. Meal’s alright, but more importantly we spend it discussing our future, which is something important to everyone except the Buddha, who is incidentally wiser than everyone else. That was preachy.
Woo, from Roswell, we fix our sights on the Grand Canyon, which is fun because it’s about seventy hours from Roswell. I take the wheel first and drive something like seven or more hours until I simply can’t anymore – Kuntz is a bro and stays awake by my side all the while, setting up the speakers next to my face, blasting Led Zeppelin to keep me awake – and by one or two in the morning, Cornbread and The Beard wake up to take over. My cold’s in my chest by now, but we start talking about our plan, to convert Pearl to opalescence by making her into a coffee/tea/scone café, complete with host pianists/buskers performing during the day (we’ll occasionally take breaks from the business to play a song or two, too), then rolling down the white rear curtain to project Federico Fellini and Adam Sandler films by night. Oh, the dream has me giddy, the ill-addled drive rather dizzy, and I crack open a beer, then another, to reward myself for the hard work. After two more glasses of wine and a flurry of ideas for the business, I physically can’t stand anymore, excuse myself for the night, and, from up in the cot, proceed to cough myself to sleep.
DAY SIXTY-SEVEN: We do wake up fairly early at the entrance to the National Park, and with the Annual Parks Pass, four of us get in for free, saving yet another $6/person. Amazing! Hoo-hah! The Beard's got his toy guitar tucked under his shirt, I my harmonica in C, and as we walk past the crowd on our way to the caves, we’re yelled at, "where do YOU think you’re going??" It’s a park ranger again, and damnit if they don’t all have a giant chip on their shoulder. We tried to skip orientation, she tells us: okay. So we anxiously await this very important assessment, wherein she tells us we should be wearing sturdy shoes, cannot eat or chew gum, and must speak only in whispers. Thank you, ma’am, and godspeed.