The trip is from Natchez Trace, Tennessee, to Dodge City, Kansas, by way of Tucson, Arizona.
Carlsbad Cavern National Park, New Mexico
When we left Guadalupe Mountains National Park we drove north on Hwy 62 out of Texas into New Mexico to Carlsbad, where set up in a private campground. My wife’s sister and her husband drove from Denver to join us there, and the next day we headed for Sitting Bull Falls. That was how I managed to leave my camera behind, we traveled together in their car. After a pleasant drive on narrow twisting back roads through the desert, which I got to enjoy more since I wasn’t driving, it was a short steep hike up to the top of the falls.
After, we drove south from Carlsbad on Hwy 62 and into Carlsbad Cavern National Park at the Whites City entrance. Once in the park it was a scenic drive that twists through the desert and up a mountain. Since I wasn’t driving we didn’t stop to take any pictures. Once we reached the visitor center and parked we could appreciate how high we were and admire the vista of miles of surrounding desert in all directions.
I had been here once before as a teenager with my parents. In the evening we had seated ourselves in the amphitheater at the natural entrance to watch the bats emerge and fly off into the night. It was quite a spectacle. Minutes before you saw the first bat you could smell them. Their odor grew stronger as they neared the entrance. Then you could hear them, the chirping and the beating of thousands of wings. Finally, they began emerging. They spiraled up before you as more and more emerged from the cave. The bats flying up out of the cave became so numerous they merged into a dark broiling column of black. They continued this for at least ten minutes. There were that many bats it took that long for all of them to exit the cave. At some high altitude above the cave entrance they broke from their spiral and flew off in one direction, like a black cloud spreading out into the night. It was quite impressive.
So I was anticipating this when we arrived. That was the reason we had waited until the afternoon to tour the cave, so we could stay after the tour to see the bats at dusk. But I learned in the visitor center we were there at the wrong time of the year, the bats weren’t in the cave at this time. Also, it was so late in the day tours were no longer going in via the natural entrance, we would have to take the elevator directly down. So I was bummed on two accounts, not seeing the bats and not walking into the cave. The natural entrance is quite impressive, also.
But I did get to see some bats. There is a statue in the visitor center symbolizing the bats emerging from the ground.
We took the elevator down and began our tour.
This is not a guided tour. You are on your own to ramble around a huge open cavern. But an audio tour is offered, which I actually prefer. You can roam at your own pace, yet not miss out on any relevant information. In this picture you can see several well-placed lights and their snaking cords.
When Carlsbad Caverns was first opened Hollywood lighting experts were brought out to install lighting that would elevate the creepiness of this alien landscape. In fact, several science fiction movies from the fifties and sixties were filmed here. That’s why everything in the Cavern looks so shadowy. It is intentional, it’s the effect that was striven for.
But with such dim lighting many of the formations are too difficult to see clearly. And I had already been recently spoiled by the Caverns of Sonora, whose astounding crystalline formations made these appear pedestrian. And the poor lighting didn’t help.
But it is still an impressive place.
I especially enjoyed this formation, the lighting succeeds here. Doesn’t this formation appear to be a monster with a gaping mouth full of saber-like teeth?
Other monsters lurking in the shadows?
This one feels like I am already inside the monster’s mouth and looking out.
We weren’t entirely left on our own. Rangers were present all around the caverns to keep an eye on us and to answer any questions. So we continued roaming.
Since we had arrived so late we were among the last to leave. Which meant there was a huge mob at the elevator waiting to go back up to the visitor center. And we couldn’t roam around waiting for the line to shorten. Rangers were cutting off the lights behind them as they ushered people to the waiting area. Nobody wanted to walk around in the dark with all those monsters lurking in the cavern. Besides, it was closing time and the rangers were wanting to go home. It wasn’t a long wait. The elevator could only hold so many people, but it was fast and got everyone up and out in a timely fashion. We drove out of the park and back to our campground in Carlsbad.
The next location is White Sands National Monument, New Mexico