American Skid Marks
Setting out on a great American motorcycle roadtrip.

Carlsbad Caverns

I spent the whole day wandering around Carlsbad Caverns. Between the hike down to the bottom through the natural entrance, a thorough walk around “The Big Room”, a ranger guided tour of “The Kings Palace”, coffee and a sandwich at the bottom of the cavern and the evening bat flight, you can easily occupy yourself for an entire day here.

Entry Gate to Carsbad Caverns National Park

Arrival

Strangely, the caverns are at once overwhelming and mundane. The natural beauty of the place is stupefying. As I walked through them I kept trying to imagine explaining what I was seeing to someone. Perhaps I lack the gift of description, but I repeatedly found myself without the words to describe the wondrous cave formations, winding passages and haunting atmosphere. They also do a great job of introducing the history of the caverns and their exploration. Stunning and beautiful as the caverns are, I wrestled the whole time with a sense that what I was seeing was somehow common; in the back of my mind I could not help but see something sadly boring about them.

I took some crappy photos. Unfortunately, I lack the proper photographic tools to do these scenes justice. The longer you spend down here, the more detail you start to notice and the more even the smallest of cave formations captivate you.

Natural Cave Entrance

Natural Entrance

Cave Room on Natural Entrance Route

Natural Entrance Route

Carsbad Speleothems

Cave Formations

Carsbad Cave Formations (Draperies)

Draperies over Flowstone

Carlsbad Caverns Columns

Columns with Draperies

Hall of Giants Speleothems

Hall of Giants

Jabba The Hutt Rock

Jabba The Hutt Rock

Crystal Springs Dome

Crystal Springs Dome

Cavern Crappers

Cavern Crappers

Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages

The auxiliary “Kings Palace Tour” takes you to a part of the cave system usually closed off to visitors. There are definitely some cool things to see on this tour including some historic graffiti  dating back to the cave’s discovery and the largest draperies I saw in the caverns.

Kings Palace

The Kings Palace (royal family to lower right 🙂 )

Queens Draperies

The Queens new Draperies

Veiled Statue

The Veiled Statue

Only now, looking back on my experience can I grasp why I felt so conflicted throughout the day. I was feeling the melancholy that accompanies the realization that some challenging and mysterious place has been conquered and made safe for the masses. The once treacherous and dark decent into Carlsbad’s depths has been paved. Heck, you can even take the elevator down to the bottom if you’re in a hurry. The pathways are lit and there are hand railings everywhere to keep you from falling into the abyss. The fomations (known generically as speleothems) have long ago been lit by a Hollywood lighting effects consultant in order to make them look more … dramatic. I understand progress and I think its great that folks in wheelchairs get a chance to see this awe inspiring place, it just makes me feel a little sad thinking about how it must have been to be one of the first spelunkers to brave the depths, armed only with a couple torches and balls the size of grapefruit. I would feel the same sadness if they put in a gondola to the top of Mt. Everest.

The evening bat flight is incredible. If you aren’t in too much of a hurry to get to the all you can eat dinner buffet back in town, you should definitely take the time to watch it. The caves are home to a colony of migrating Mexican Free-tailed Bats. Apparently, they birth their young at Carlsbad and wait for their offspring to mature before migrating South for Winter. Once the young are flying, the population can get well above half a million bats. On the evening I was there, the ranger estimated that 300,000 bats exited the cave. As the sun sets, they make their way to the cave entrance, fly in a counterclockwise circle a few times and then make their way south to feed for the night. When massed they look like a grayish ghost, constantly shifting shape and direction. I’ve never seen anything like it. Wondrous.

I’m camping at Brantley Lake State Park. The night sky in the desert is not like anything I’ve seen on this trip. It’s strange that I’ve camped so much, but until now haven’t seen dramatic night skies. I laid down on the driveway around the campsite and just stared up for half and hour tonight. It was good for my soul.

Tomorrow I’m headed to Roswell to get the scoop on the alien invasion. I’ll get to the bottom of what these little green men are up to. Are they truly the “Pro bono proctologisst from other star systems” that some folks claim?

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