Amazingly, we are still in Texas. It's starting to feel like we’ll never leave this state. However, we are now in a different time zone and only a stones throw from the New Mexico border. We’ve arrived at the Guadalupe Mountains and they are magnificent. We quickly set up camp and take a nap during the midday heat. Towards late afternoon we decide to take on our most adventurous event yet, a hike to the highest peak in Texas. We pack plenty of water, food, and safety supplies and begin our ascent assuming that the peak we start climbing is the highest. As we trek our way up, the path continues to narrow and the terrain steadily becomes rockier. After a short while, we are near the top of the peak of the mountain we started climbing. However, the path doesn’t end. Now that we’re at the top of this mountain, we can see that the path leads to another, taller mountain. Not to be discouraged, we continue our hike.
Taking frequent breaks as Christine is still a little sick and the air is much thinner than we’re used to, we continue to make slow but steady progress. We reach what we believe to be the final ascent to the highest peak in Texas, but alas, the path isn’t done yet. Rather, once again, the peak we were climbing was hiding yet another, taller mountain behind it. We check our clocks and see that we still have a couple hours before the sun starts to set and we press on, once again assuming we are climbing our final mountain. Traversing narrow paths near drops that are gut wrenching to look down upon, we make slower but still constant progress. We climb the peak and, to our dismay, find that there is another, still taller mountain behind the peak we just climbed. At this point, what we thought was going to be a rather short trek up one mountain, has turned into a climb up 3 mountains with yet a fourth, taller mountain to go. In addition, the weather has started to cool down at this altitude and the sun is only an hour or two from setting. Beyond these points, we realize that we have left time sensitive medication back at camp because we neglected to factor in the recent time zone switch.
Discouraged and feeling slightly defeated, we turn back having ascended, what we assume to be, the second tallest peak in Texas. We begin to descend the mountain as the sun begins its final descent in the sky. Our progress back is much quicker than our ascent, but we are no match for the sun. When we reach the first mountain we climbed, the sun is behind the other peaks and it is beginning to get dark quickly. We are moving quickly in the dusk down our final descent when we are startled by something very large moving very quickly down the mountain.
Two large mountain goats, which apparently were just as startled by us as we were by them went flying down the mountain not more than 25 feet away from us. We take a moment to regain our composure and admire their ability to move so quickly around such steep terrain. We reach the bottom almost at the same time dusk turns to dark and are happy that we decided to turn back when we did. We did have flashlights with us had they been required. We are both very tired and before going to bed we fix some of the best tasting spaghettios we’ve ever had which we eat hastily in the dark.
The following morning we make a short drive up to New Mexico to visit Carlsbad Caverns. While the previous day we had been ascending up the Guadalupe Mountains, today we will be making our way down into them. Unfortunately, as we found out in Austin, our camera isn’t very good at taking pictures in dark settings and seems to hold the exposure for too long. We’re still trying to figure out how to fix this issue but, sadly, we didn’t end up with many, if any, good pictures when we were in the cavern. However, descending into the cave was pretty spectacular. We chose a path that had us walking from the natural entrance of the cave to the bottom as opposed to an elevator ride that would have taken us to the bottom.
As you enter the cave, there is a lot of activity. Cave swallows are circling all around the entrance and you can feel air swooshing all about. This is in stark contrast to when you’re even just a little way into the cave where everything is almost completely still. The only sounds you can hear, if you’re not near other tourists, is the occasional drip, drip, dripping of water droplets. The air is also completely still and much cooler than the surface (a constant 57 degrees or so). The cave is dimly lit by a series of lights that only shine their light onto the unique cave features. We stop every now and again to try to take a picture but feel almost evil for disturbing the stillness. When we reach the "bottom" however, where the elevator ends, the stillness is quickly quashed. The elevator and natural cave entrance both empty into a massive subterranean cavity that has huge stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and more otherworldly features. We take our time and explore the many parts of the big room as well as a few of the paths that venture off and away from the main cavern. We stop in at Carlsbad for a quick bite to eat. Our advice is that if you ever have a chance to eat at a Furr’s Restaurant, don’t. We returned to the cavern at night to watch the nightly exodus of bats from the depths of the cave.
Fortuitously, the ranger who was giving the presentation was very knowledgeable and also giving his farewell speech. He sang an amusing song shortly before hundreds of thousands of bats emerged from the cave. We sat for almost an hour, until after the sun had set, and the bats were still coming out in droves, seemingly without end. When it finally became too dark to see the bats, whom weigh no more than 3 nickels and have bodies smaller than a human thumb, we left. We could still hear them exiting the cavern as we walked back to our car. We returned to our campground in the Guadalupe Mountains to spend our last night in Texas before moving on.
Tom and Christine
Stay a while, and listen. ~Deckard Cain