Sunday, November 1, 2015
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is another one of those places that is a bit off the beaten track, tucked down into the far southeastern corner of New Mexico. If I hadn’t had so much fun floating down a stream through a limestone cave in Colombia a couple years ago I might not have bothered. But with a free admission pass I figured why not check it out? Caverns are otherworldly. Sort of like scuba diving without the tanks. The winding road that heads up into the mountains is fun even if you don’t go down into the caverns. Once you get up to the top of a bluff the views out over southern New Mexico are vast. And there is quite a large visitors building: I had low expectations and got a free ticket for the self guided tour. I wandered around the display area in the main lobby and saw from the exhibits that the good stuff was in large vaults with names like Queens Chamber and Kings Palace. Because these rooms were so ornate with delicate stalactites that were subject to vandalism, you have to buy a guided tour ticket for the cool rooms whereas you can just wander around the rest of the caverns on your own. The next tour to the cool caverns wasn’t for 2 hours. Hmmm. I bought a ticket. It was half price $4.00 with a Golden Eagle Pass. In the meantime I wandered around the lobby and read the displays. Since I had time to kill before the guided tour, I decided not to take the elevator down into the caverns. They are 750 feet down underground. Okay that’s a long way. Over 70 stories. But hey, I am getting out of shape in my old age and could use some excercise. Right? So I walked out of the lobby and down the trail to the natural entrance. Check out this stone amphitheater that was constructed by the CCC back in the 1930’s for viewing the bats that come out of the cave every evening: Here is a picture from up in the lobby of the Mexican bats swarming out of the caverns at dusk: and another picture of the natural opening with early visitors heading toward the steep stairs down into the mouth of the cavern: And what it looks like today: and the switchbacks leading straight down into the abyss: Hardly anybody goes down the hard way. 99.9% of visitors take the elevator. There was nobody heading down at 8:30 AM shortly after the park opens. Just me and the birds for the first while. Cave swallows nest in the upper portion of the caverns. It doesn’t take long for the massive entrance to turn into a small spot of sky way up in the distance: The Empire State building in NY is 1250 vertical feet of staircases. Carlsbad Caverns is only 750 feet, so about 60%. Each switchback drops you down another 10 feet, so there must be 75 switchbacks. I didn’t count and did a google search, but didn’t find the answer. The trail is a steep paved ramp the whole way so you could theoretically get a wheelchair down this thing. The ramps are quite steep with metal handrails all the way. As your eyes adjust to the darkness you begin to appreciate the lighting designer who set up the cave lighting. It isn’t overdone. And there are nice lighted informational signs along the way: I wandered around the caverns that are on the self guided tour and then met up for the guided tour at the elevator area. I am not a fan of guided tours and this one was no different. But it led us through the Queens Chamber, the King's palace and the Green Lake Chamber. All very ornate, beautiful and worthwhile seeing while you are underground. The Park Ranger mainly regurgitated the information I had read in the lobby, made us go in single file slowly and sit on the stone walls for lectures. Encouraging us to snuggle next to our neighbors in case we were getting chilly. Okay, I am not a snuggle with strangers kind of person. Maybe it’s me or maybe it's that I just came from Texas where I am pretty sure snuggling with strangers is a felony. Just kidding. Anyway, the tour lasted an hour and a half which was an hour and fifteen minutes longer than it needed to. Just my humble opinion. The fifty people on the tour all headed back to the elevator and I headed the opposite direction and hiked back up the 1 mile trail of tears and switchbacks to the natural entrance. It was a steep hike up out of Carlsbad Caverns and I had this song stuck in my head, as happens sometimes when you are hiking or bicycling a long way up a steep mountain. I was in a bat cave and I couldn't get the theme song to batman out of my mind. You know the one, various octaves of duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh BATMAN! Holy crap, now I have it again. Hopefully you will not be afflicted when you next visit the Carlsbad Caverns. It is a pretty cool place and I think it is worth a visit. My pictures don't do it justice. Without a person in the picture for scale, I look at these pictures and can see how you would think you are looking at an aquarium in a dentist's office instead of a 50 foot tall massive stalagmite. Imagine a room a mile long and twenty stories high with boulders that have dropped from the ceiling that are ten stories high and weigh 200,000 tons. Like the Grand Canyon, you have to see it in person to really experience the awesome scale and vastness of mother nature. I am now in Apache Junction waiting until the 11th when my plane leaves for South America. I was impressed with how beautiful the Lincoln National Forest is Northwest of Carlsbad New Mexico. Up around Cloudcroft you go over mountain passes that are over 9000 feet high. Really nice area with great switchbacks and would be a fun area to explore further. more later….