Tag Archives: Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns (Part 2)

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Once Jerico was secured in a kennel, The Man and I decided to take the Natural Entrance route down into the cave. We were both in fine health, able to walk a mile on “steep and narrow trails.” We thought it would be cool to follow “the traditional explorers’ route” in, rather than take an elevator down hundreds of feet into the earth.

I bought our tickets while The Man looked in the gift shop. (There’s no reason for us both to stand in line, I told him.) Tickets for the self-guided tours of both the Natural Entrance route and the Big Room Route were $10 for adults without any special passes. Once I procured our tickets, we followed signs to the Natural Entrance. Before we started in, a very cheerful park ranger went over the rules visitor are expected to follow.

Don’t touch any of the cave formations.

No smoking or tobacco use.

No gum.

No eating. Drink only water.

Don’t throw anything into cave pools.

Talk in a whisper.

After the brief interaction with the ranger, we were on our way.

The Natural Entrance to Carlsbad Cavern is just past the Bat Flight Amphitheater.

Just past the Bat Flight Amphitheater, visitors walk down toward the huge, dark opening of the Natural Entrance via a series of paved switchbacks. As one descends, the world becomes quieter and cooler. As the temperature in the cave is always 56 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celcius), visitors are advised to “take a jacket or a sweater.”

A column formation in Carlsbad Cavern.

The cave wasn’t very crowded or noisy during our visit. Visitors are asked to keep their voices low to maintain a quiet atmosphere, but a large number of people whispering could be a noisy bunch. Even if a crowd was quiet, it might still be difficult to navigate around a lot of people. I prefer to visit attractions when I’m one of few visitors. To avoid crowds at any National Park or other popular place, I advise folks to visit before Memorial Day or after Labor Day, during the middle of the week, and as early in the morning as possible. We visited Carlsbad Cavern on a Thursday in early May and started our exploration before 10am. While we didn’t have the place to ourselves, the cave was quiet, and everyone had plenty of elbow room.

We hadn’t gotten very far into the Main Corridor when The Man said he felt very good, peaceful, even as if he had been to this place before. We wondered why we felt so calm in the cavern. Was it the cool temperature? The soft lighting? The quiet? The lack of electromagnetic radiation? We didn’t know, but we surely enjoyed our calm peacefulness.

The Natural Entrance route and the Big Room route are both highly developed areas. The trail is paved and most parts of it have handrails. Both the pavement and the handrails are safety features. In many places, the trail is steep and narrow and could be difficult to navigate if it were made of dirt or loose rock. The trail is often wet and slippery from the high levels of moisture in the air. The handrails help visitors make it safely through those treacherous areas. The trails are accessible to visitors with a range of physical abilities. “Portions of the Big Room are accessible to visitors in wheelchairs…Visitors in wheelchairs should only go into the Big Room with assistance.”

Both the Big Room route and the Natural Entrance route are lit with artificial light. The lighting is kept dim and is sort of yellow. The low light gives the cave a mysterious atmosphere. “The Natural Entrance route descends over 750 feet into the Earth…” and natural light can’t penetrate so deeply. Without artificial light, the dark zone of the cavern would be pitch black.

It’s difficult to describe how it feels to be in the cavern. It’s both huge, like the tallest cathedral imaginable, and womblike. The air is cool and thick with moisture; it’s hard to remember the Chihuahuan Desert is a few hundred feet above. Carlsbad Cavern is its own unique world.

The chambers are decorated with amazing, sometimes enormous rock formations that were created one drop of water at a time. Of course, the cavern is ancient. “The story of Carlsbad Cavern begins 250 million years ago with the creation of a 400-mile-long reef in an inland sea that covered this region.” How does a sea become a desert? I guess a lot can change in 250 million years.

“The decoration of Carlsbad Cavern with stalactites, stalagmites, and an incredible variety of other formations began over 500,000 years ago after much of the cavern had been carved out. It happened slowly–drop by drop–at a time when a wetter, cooler climate prevailed.”

To learn more about how Carlsbad Cavern and its fantastic decorations formed, go to https://www.nps.gov/cave/learn/nature/geologicformations.htm.

Soon after we passed Iceberg Rock, “a single 200,000-ton boulder that fell from the cave ceiling thousands of years ago,” we found ourselves near the elevator up and the beginning of the Big Room route.

This is as far as I went the other time I was here, I told The Man. When we got here, my ex said he was too tired to go on, so we took the elevator up and left.

The Man and I wanted to see every last bit of that cave, so we set out on the Big Room route.

This is one of the formations I saw in the Big Room.

The Big Room consists of “8.2 acres” and is “the largest room in the cave.” The paved trail is a mile long and goes in a loop around the perimeter of the Big Room. There’s a shortcut at about the halfway point for people who don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to walk the whole route. The Man and I were having nothing to do with a shortcut; we wanted to see it all!

You missed all of this? The Man whispered in bewilderment as we walked through the Big Room. This is the best part!

I had to agree. My ex’s foolishness had caused us both to miss the largest and most famous formations like Rock of Ages, Giant Dome, Twin Dome, and Crystal Spring Dome.

The Man took my hand and said, I’m glad we got to see this for the first time together.

Me too, I smiled.

My biggest frustration in Carlsbad Cavern was trying to get photos capturing the beauty and momentous nature of the formations I saw. I used my digital camera (not the one in my phone), and even with a flash

StalacTites are on the Top.

and a zoom, it wasn’t up to the task. I’m not a fan of flash photography, but the low light in the cave made it impossible to capture any image without using a flash. The Man got a few really nice photos using his phone, but even a nice photo is totally lacking. Like with so many natural wonders, the only way to begin to understand the majesty of Carlsbad Cavern is to actually visit it.

The Man said seeing the cave had totally been worth the time, money, and effort. He was glad we had visited and thanked me for suggesting/insisting we go. He’s been to some beautiful places–the Oregon Coast and Moab, UT among them–but he said Carlsbad Cavern is one of the most amazing places he’s ever visited.

Carlsbad Cavern is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Hours vary by season. For current information, contact the park at 575-785-2232 or see https://www.nps.gov/cave/planyourvisit/hours.htm.

All information in quotation marks comes from the Carlsbad Caverns information sheet and map I was given when I bought our tickes.

I took all of the (terribly disappointing) photos in this post.

 

 

 

Carlsbad Caverns (Part 1)

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The first time I visited Carlsbad Caverns, I knew it was something special.

I was still with the man who would one day be my ex. We were already fighting a lot, and by “fighting,” I mean he was angry at me most of the time and yelled at me when we were in the privacy of the van. I’m not sure if the hitting had already started, but if it hadn’t it would soon. In fact, he almost canceled our visit to the caverns because I “made” him yell at me so much the night before that I “made” him sick, and he didn’t know if he had the energy to enjoy himself. I cajoled him into going, mostly so I wouldn’t be blamed later for “making” him miss the attraction.

Neither of us was very happy when we arrived at the Natural Entrance to the cave, but we were quickly

The Natural Entrance to the cave.

overcome by the shocking beauty it contained. As we descended deeper into the earth, we were amazed by the rock formations we saw: stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, draperies, and columns. The formations we saw were like nothing we had ever seen. We were in awe.

Of course, after the one-mile hike into the cave, the boyfriend punished me by saying he was just too tired to walk another mile through the Big Room, the basic tour through Carlsbad Cavern. We had to leave, he insisted. He just couldn’t go on. So we took the elevator back up to the visitor center, found the van in the parking lot, and left.

What a manipulator! He got to experience fantastic natural wonders, yet still got to blame me for not getting to see both parts. He got to have his bitter cake and eat the nasty thing too!

Honestly, it hardly mattered to me that we left without seeing everything. Just seeing what I saw of the cavern was enough for me. I didn’t care if the boyfriend wanted to be mad at me. What I had seen had been extraordinary, and I think I was changed, maybe minutely, maybe imperceivably, but something inside of me was a little bit different.

At one point, while we were walking along the Main Corridor, somewhere between Bat Cave, Devils’ Den, and Iceberg Rock, I had the urge to fall to my knees and give thanks. I wasn’t sure who I wanted to thank. God? The Goddess? The Universe? Mother Nature? The Creator? Before that day, I hadn’t really believed in anything greater than myself or any sort of force bigger than chemical reactions, but on that day, something clicked. Sure, chemical reactions were involved in this grandeur before me, but something so majestic surely was formed by some extraordinary force.

I left the boyfriend some months later, and we got back together. We repeated the process several times until I left his ass for good. Fast forward six yeas, and The Man and I found ourselves in Roswell, NM.

I knew The Man had never been to Carlsbad Caverns.

We should go! I encouraged him. We’re so close!

He seemed a little skeptical. Was it really worth going nearly 100 miles out of our way? He said he’s been in other caves. Did he really need to see this one?

I didn’t blame him for his skepticism. There was no way my mere words could describe to him how glorious those underground rooms are.

That’s the problem with trying to describe Carlsbad Caverns–there’s no way words can do it justice. Even photographs–even professional photographs–fail to capture the splendor of Carlsbad Caverns. Maybe a photograph of one formation–say Rock of Ages–will do a really good job of showing its features, but no photograph can convey the vastness of the Big Room, the cool dripping wetness of the atmosphere in the cave, the near silence enveloping visitors.

I took many photos at Carlsbad Caverns, but only a few look anything like real life. This is one of the few decent photos I ended up with. Even a decent photo cannot convey how it really feels to be deep in the earth.

Somehow, what I was able to convince The Man that a visit to the cavern would be worth the trip, so we drove out to Carlsbad on a Wednesday afternoon. We spent the night on BLM land (free boondocking!) on Highway 62/180, and the next morning we only had to drive a few miles to the park entrance.

Because dogs are not allowed in the caverns and pets can’t be left in vehicles if temperatures are predicted to rise above 70 degrees, our first order of business upon arrival at the visitor center was to deposit Jerico in the park’s kennel.

The kennel service cost $10 when we visited in May 2017. The kennel closed earlier than the cave, but a dog could stay the entire time the kennel was open for the same price as a dog that only stayed an hour. The kennel and the gift shop are run by the same concessionaire. We didn’t have to show proof of any vaccinations to secure Jerico a spot.

The kennel was very sparse. It consisted of about a dozen cages made from metal wire lining the walls of a large storage closet. Each cage contained water in a bowl and nothing more. While the room didn’t stink, it didn’t have that medicinal smell veterinary clinics have which lets clients know floors have been recently disinfected. Also, no attendant stayed in the room with the dogs. If we’d had a better choice, I wouldn’t have left Jerico there.

Without encouragement, Jerico went right into the cage the worker pointed to, but once the door was zip tied shut, we understood the pup’s displeasure by the look in his eye and the tone of his bark. The Man filled out a form with basic information, then we walked to the gift shop to pay the kennel fee.

(A few hours later, when we retrieved Jerico, I was surprised to see a different worker took no steps to make sure we were leaving with the dog we brought. He didn’t ask to see The Man’s driver’s license or compare the duplicate of the form attached to our receipt to the original. I bet this lax security would get the operation in a heap of trouble if someone’s precious pet was stolen.)

Our task complete, The Man and I headed into the visitor center to begin our adventure.

I took all of the photos in this post.

 

 

Free BLM Camping (Southern New Mexico Edition)

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The Man and I found ourselves in Roswell, NM. When he mentioned he’d never visited Carlsbad Caverns, I said we had to go. I’d been once before, six years ago, with my boyfriend who turned out to be not very nice. Carlsbad Caverns changed me in ways I cannot describe because I can barely understand it all myself. When I realized we were less than 100 miles from a natural wonder The Man hadn’t experienced, I insisted we go.

As soon as we decided to visit Carlsbad Caverns, I got on FreeCampsites.net (https://freecampsites.net/) to try to find us a nice, free place to spend the night.

When my ex and I visited the National Park, we spent the night before our adventure in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart in the town of Carlsbad. I didn’t want to do that if we could help it. First, I haven’t met a Wal-Mart parking lot that wasn’t hot, noisy, and too bright. Why spend the night in a parking lot if we could be out in nature instead? Also, the town of Carlsbad is about 20 miles from the famous caverns, meaning we’d have to start the day with a half hour of driving if we stayed in town. Better, I thought, to drive in the evening and park for the night in a quiet, dark, natural spot.

On the Free Campsites website, I found several options for free camping on BLM land near Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The place I picked doesn’t even have a name; on the website, it’s simply referred to as “Public Lands near Carlsbad Caverns.” (To read more about the camping area, go here: https://freecampsites.net/#!22041&query=sitedetails.)

I used the FreeCampsites.net free app on my Android phone to search for promising camping areas. When I decided on the spot where I wanted to camp, I clicked on the “Get Directions” link on the page with the information about the camping area. This link is near the GPS coordinates for the site. When I clicked the “Get Directions” link, it opened up Google Maps which told me how to get from my location to the road where I wanted to camp. The Man taught me it’s better to click the “Get Directions” link than to put in the GPS coordinates myself because I might make a mistake transferring all those numbers. Once Google Maps opened, we let the spokesmodel (I named her Mildred Antwerp) guide us into our spot for the night.

Without Mildred Antwerp to talk us through, it would have been a bit difficult to find the place. I would have had to keep a close eye on my odometer in order to figure out where to turn because the road onto the BLM land not only doesn’t have a street sign, it doesn’t have a name! Google Maps just calls it “Unnamed Road.” There wasn’t even a sign announcing we were on BLM land.

When directed to, we turned off US-180 W/US-62 W onto a fairly well-maintained dirt road. The road was bumpy, but I’ve certainly been on worse New Mexico roads. I didn’t feel as if the van was in any danger.

It wasn’t long before we saw a pull-off–a wide dirt area–on the left side of the road. Farther ahead, we saw other vehicles parked on the left. As indicated in the description of the camping area, we saw a fire ring in the pull-off, not BLM issue as far as I could tell, simply local stones someone had gathered and arranged in a circle. We knew we had arrived.

This pipe snaked on the right side of the road, across from the free camping area.

We didn’t want to park in the first open spot because we like privacy when we can get it, so we continued up the gently climbing road. As we went up and saw other people parked in pull-offs, I worried there might not be a place for us.

All of the camping spots were on the left side of the road. On the right side, I saw a thick, dark pipe snaking across the land. Once we stopped, I was able to read a signpost near the pipe: natural gas. The government owns the land, and somebody’s making money from the sale of the natural gas being pumped out, so I guess the least they can do is let the people camp there for free.

We found a spot, the first unoccupied one past an old pickup with a slide-in camper. The Man backed in the van next to our stone fire ring. We hadn’t brought any wood and there wasn’t any lying around to gather, so we didn’t have a fire that night. We did, however, have a nice view from the back doors.

We were quite far from our nearest neighbor, and we didn’t hear any noise other campers might have made. We were also quite far from the highway and didn’t hear any sounds of traffic. The whole time we were there, only two vehicles passed our camp. Soon after we arrived, a truck drove up the road and not too long after, drove down the road and away. In the morning, a woman who must have been camped above us drove past the van as she left. Otherwise, it was easy to imagine we were the only people in the area.

View from the back of the van

Staying on this BLM land was a true boondocking experience. There was no water, potable or otherwise. There were no toilets of either the pit, the flush, or the portable variety. There were no garbage cans or electricity. It was totally a case of bring in everything you need and take out all the waste you produce. The fire rings were the only indication people had camped there before.

Ocotillo plants and clumps of grass

I did have service for my Net 10 phone the entire time we were on the BLM land. I was even able to post a picture to Facebook and view updates from friends.

I’ve stayed in prettier free camping spots, but this place was not completely lacking beauty. We were in a sort of deserty area with clusters of grass, small cacti, and ocotillo plants growing from rocky ground.  Below us, flat land with no trees stretched as far as my eyes could see. What the area lacked in beauty, it made up for in silence and darkness.

It was also in a great location. In the morning we woke up, ate our cereal and milk, then drove about five miles to the entrance of Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Spending the night on this BLM land beat staying in the Carlsbad Wal-Mart’s parking lot on every count.

The night we stayed on the BLM land, we were blessed with a red moon above us.

This campsite is located at an elevation of 3,650 feet. Its GPS coordinates are 32.204698, -104.334665.

I took all the photos in this post.