Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
May 6 - May 8, 2014
We departed Austin, reluctant to leave, but ready to finally be in a tent! and in nature! and in our FIRST NATIONAL PARK! :)
We drove and drove and drove through the hot, dreary, miserable Texan desert for what seemed like eternity, until FINALLY we reached New Mexico. Texas is SO LONG . . . Quite the trek. All I remember is eating taco bell and sweating my ass off. Needless to say, I never want to drive through Texas again. It was at this point that I recall starting to feel a lot like Clark Griswold. When alas, we spotted what looked like a mountain range rising out of the endless mirage that had swallowed us up for the past countless, grueling hours. As we drew closer, the Guadalupe Mountains grew higher, and bigger, massive brown giants welcoming us in from our long weary journey.
The Guadalupe Mountains Beckoning . . .
We arrived to find 1 gas station, 1 souvenir shop, 1 spanish diner, and 1 giant, wooden carved sculpture of a nervous looking alien man. This is the town that borders the base of the Guadalupe Mountains. Not sure what else I really expected but that was it! We wandered in to the one shop and bought some weird bread, kinda-yummy fudge, and a campsite for two nights from an old cowboy that took his job very seriously.
We cruised on over to our campsite to find two fellow campers among plenty of open campsites, and set up our massive tent next to what seemed like a leftover circus-tent-metal-shelter-thing. May not sound like much but we sure were happy!!
Set up camp by one of the two trees in the campground
We set up our campsite for the first time of our trip - assembled our stove-top and started some soup, created a comfy fortress of a bed with a blow-up mattress, our foam mattress-topper, sleeping bags, blankets, and pillows, and relaxed in our luxurious fold-out chairs to take in the scenery. Within 10 minutes, a few deer grazed into the field and hung out with us for a little while, and we made friends with our neighbors, Melissa and John. They were a couple from the Northeast, living and driving around the country in a big purple van with a dirt bike attached to the rear . . . Pretty kick-ass setup. We shared stories of our journeys, and while we had a timeline and a list of destinations we were making our way through, they were literally traveling wherever their hearts desired. They would just wake up in the morning, look at a map, find what looks intriguing and go wherever felt right in that moment. They had already been skipping around the country for about a month and planned to keep on going as long as their bank accounts allowed. I think they are still traveling even now. Pretty amazing people!! We agreed to explore the caverns tomorrow before retiring to our respective homes for the night to rest up for our long day of cave exploring in the morning.
I have studied yogis for some time now, in all their whimsical ideas of this life and human nature and the universe and the manifestation of energy in all it's beautiful forms. I have discovered more than a few of my favorite yogis consider Carlsbad Caverns, in particular, to be one of the most magical places on earth. These cryptic landscapes and fragile structures that have come to life underground take you in to what feels like another world, another planet, almost even another life. I knew I had to go. This was one of my "No, Brad, WE HAVE TO GO HERE!" destinations, so obviously, I was stoked.
We woke up and made a nice big breakfast to sustain us most of the day, filled and stocked our camelbacks, grabbed a couple flashlights and headed up the mountain. The drive up was desolate, rocky, and lacked much of any life. We saw a couple cave holes in the rocky boulders of the mountains which we were convinced people lived in and wanted to come back later and climb up and into, but never actually did. Despite the lack of plant-life (besides cacti everywhere) there were a couple of dainty, desert flowers sprinkled here and there--a bit of beauty amidst the desolation. We finally arrived to the top of the mountain and explored the museum for only a couple minutes, way too eager to get ourselves down into the caverns.
We were so excited!!! Ok, I was really excited!!!
There's a natural entrance and an unnatural entrance (an elevator that descends you straight down into the caverns 600-700 feet below the museum). We obviously chose the natural entrance. A paved pathway lead us from the museum through the desert to a stone amphitheater surrounding a large, black hole. At night, people flock to this spot to watch the bats fly out of the cavern (just as they did for us in Austin) which is actually how the caves were discovered by Jim White in 1898. He was a cowboy and while in the desert one day, saw what looked like smoke billowing from the Guadalupe Mountains in the distance. He knew it wasn't a volcano and couldn't quite figure out what the phenomenon could be, so he decided to explore closer for a better look. That billowing smoke happened to be millions of bats flying into the night from a big, black opening in the mountain. These bats still evacuate the caverns every night around sunset, hence the large amphitheater available for viewing the exhibition.
Here we go!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Caves are formed by the natural forces of water and erosion, which stumped me because how could these caves exist right here in the middle of the desert? I learned that where the mountains now stand, there used to be a huge body of water called Lake Delaware. Over 230 millions years ago, the impetuous multi-process of corrosion, erosion, and weathering slowly worked away, infiltrating the natural acids and elements in the soil with the lake water to inevitably carve out these mountains, creating crystallized caverns that loom hundreds of feet below today. Pretty wild stuff.
Today, the remains of these natural processes include beautifully crafted Stalagmites, Stalactites, Draperies, "Popcorn," and all sorts of crazy shapes and faces and textures and colors for you to speculate and ruminate over.
We started our descent through the natural entrance, which was a rather steep, zig-zagged pathway leading us into the depths of the Earth. Imagining making the descent without the paved pathway or the dim, barely-there lighting system guiding our way was blowing my mind. How the heck did Jim White explore these caverns ALL BY HIMSELF back in 1898 with nothing more than a oil-fueled lantern? We were told that while in the depths of the cave, his lantern lost it's light, and he stood deep in the cold darkness for about twenty minutes until he (thank god) managed to turn it back on. I wonder if he found skeletons while he was down there exploring all by himself - of humans or animals . . or monsters . .
Okay, anyway . . . We started the great descent into the caves and the deeper we went, the more ornate and detailed and colorful the formations became. Mother Nature is truly the greatest artist. We were instructed not to yell or make too much noise in the caves because even the slightest noise carries very easily, so we whispered and quietly gasped and happily marveled at the extravagance of what lied before us. I'm trying really hard to find the words that could possibly encompass the greatness, the vastness, the intricate elaborateness of these creations, but I just can't. And as we silently meandered through the rocks and boulders, I eventually became speechless--which is highly unusual for me. It wrapped me up in myself and I couldn't fathom the immensity of what I was witnessing. It's like when you see something so extraordinary and out-of-this-world that you can't even wrap your mind around it then and there, and the moment steals you away, and then another, and time trails away completely and takes you to a place only you can know, leaving you to only try to explain or describe or comprehend what you've just had the pleasure of seeing and knowing and experiencing. An encounter with the beautifully powerful, natural forces that make up this world and all the grandeur it has so craftily composed--that same force that has also created you and me. An exquisite, inconceivable, undreamed adventure of the spirit, a true fantasy world ~
My first true cave experience.
Stalagmites uniting with the stalactites from below
The King's Palace
Stalactites dripping down from the ceiling
The Big Room
Mysteries around every corner
The Bashful Elephant (How cute is he?!)
We wandered around those caverns all day long, walking up and down and twice-around, absolutely lost in this crazy foreign space-planet of a place. The caves have a rather intricate lighting system of pure white lights cast in the most beautiful ways, illuminating the depth and natural shades and crystallized colors hidden in the walls of the caves. Some of my favorite formations were the Chinese Theatre, the Bashful Elephant, the Chandelier, and there was even a Fairy Land--I kid you not--which obviously made my list, too. This whole place was like Fairy Land!! Such a wondrous escape for the body, mind and spirit.
My handsome spelunking partner! :)
To my yogis, wherever you are now . . .
I totally get it.
~*~ In the Queen's Room ~*~
And as for our new spelunking friends, I loved these two. I don't think I've ever giggled so much in a span of just a couple hours. We were with a group of corvette lovers that were enjoying a "club outing" and these people were absolutely hilarious for some reason or another. Especially the man who thought he was a professional photographer and had about 3 cameras and was taking blurry, horrible pictures, and then started taking pictures of strangers (including us)? He was too much. People are so funny. We enjoyed the royal palace of caves, soaked up all the cool bits and facts our tour guide offered, named a bunch of shapes in the sculptures like you would with shapes in the clouds, and heard the reverberation of our laughing echo through the cracks and crevices, filling the empty, cold space surrounding us. From there, we continued through the caves, making the same rounds we had before, but slower this time, noticing different angles and views that had escaped us the first time around. I think we could have spent the span of a couple days exploring these caverns, and we wanted so badly to go off the beaten trail and explore deeper. It was mysteriously inviting, intriguing the adventurers within us.
And now I want to be a professional spelunker. What a dreamy day it was.....literally, something out of my day dreams. Happy to be able to say I've crossed it off my bucket list of destinations and left with a souvenir that only my heart can know and hold. The best way to kick off our National Park journey!
Just a couple of spelunkers
"THANK YOU NEW MEXICO!!!!!!!"
Thanks for chasing my dreams with me, babe.
Had an interesting dinner that night at the little spanish diner with Melissa and John...and the corvette crew, too. Got some free food(?). Hung with the alien man, and when we headed back to camp we found a mysterious man/woman dressed from head to toe in all white riding a tractor in circles around the campground........nobody knows who or what they were doing.....I don't think I wanted to know.....The desert is a weird place.
Eventually, we retreated to our tent, tired from the awesome day we had. That night in the desert was a tumultuous one, with hurricane force winds billowing down the Guadalupe's and trying to mangle our mansion of a tent. While I was hyperventilating and demanding we pack up our tent in efforts to preserve it and just sleep in the car, Brad (who luckily is one crafty fella) tied our tent down from about 13 different angles using all the ropes and stakes and hooks he had, giving me the peace of mind that we wouldn't get swept across the desert during the middle of the night. The wind howled and thundered til about midnight and we slept safe and sound into the early morning with the tent-topper off, under the stars and the glow of the big, bright moon. Ahhhhhhh, tent life.
The next day we would continue our journey west through the sweltering desert, on a mission to celebrate the 75th Birthday of the warmest, happiest, kindest little woman I know: My Nana.
Til next time, tent peeps. Stay weird.
xoxo, Tent Girl