A Travellerspoint blog

Day 12 - Carlsbad Caverns

A learning experience

sunny 18 °C

Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns

Chihuahuan Desert

Chihuahuan Desert

Example of desert

Example of desert

The Carlsbad Caverns are in the Chihuahuan Desert. There were a number of information stops on the road from the welcome sign to the visitors centre. We stopped to enjoy a few and decided to visit some on our way out of the park.

We arrived at the Carlsbad Caverns between 9:30 AM and 9:45 AM. The woman selling tickets told us the "Kings Palace Guided Tour" would be starting at 10 AM and that if we wanted to join the tour we would have to take the elevator down to the "Rest Area and Lunchroom". Our annual parks pass got us into the caverns for free but the tour would cost us $8.00 each. We quickly paid such a reasonable price and caught the elevator which takes you down 750 feet in a minute. We joined our tour group of about 30 people.

Our Park Ranger guide was a geologist who was also a fan of exploring caves. The tour was supposed to be 1 1/2 hours but our experience was 2 hours. Our tour guide was very theatrical, informative and entertaining. He was a classic story teller. The tour took us down to the 830 foot level beneath the desert surface along paved trails. We were required to walk one mile and descend 80 feet and at the end of the tour we climbed 80 feet. We also had a black out experience when the ranger turned out the lights and described a situation where the first explorer of the caverns, Jim White, had his lantern run out of oil, and he had to find it, refill it and light it, completely in the dark. This was the darkest dark we had ever experienced. Well, maybe on another caving experience, but at this stage in our lives, the memory is lost to us. We tried to take photos of all the wonders that we saw, but the photos did not turn out well. This photo of the "Witch's Broom" turned out the best. This is a sample of a drapery and a column that looks like a broom. A column is a stalactite and stalagmite that join. We also got a photo of the ceiling of one cavern (room) that shows draperies forming.

Witch's Broom

Witch's Broom

Forming draperies

Forming draperies

At the end of the tour we took the elevator back up to the surface and had lunch in the visitors centre. We had chosen to wear our hiking boots and we were so happy that we did. We had secure footing.

After lunch we chose to return to the caverns by the Natural Entrance. We stopped by this photo op on our way to the Natural Entrance.

My caveman

My caveman

This is the entrance that Jim White found back in 1898 when he noticed what he thought was smoke billowing from the ground. What he found was the entrance and millions of bats flying off to hunt. This is a self-guided walk down to the caverns that covers a descent of 750 feet over one mile, following steep and narrow paved trails. This hike should take about 1 hour.

Natural Entrance

Natural Entrance

Natural Entrance of Carlsbad Caverns

Natural Entrance of Carlsbad Caverns

We reached the rest area/lunchroom in good form and moved on to the "Big Room" trail. This is a one-mile self-guided tour over relatively flat territory. This trail should take about 1 1/2 hours. It is a circular route through the largest cavern or room in this cave system. Again there were many beautiful speleothem formations, or cave decorations, such as helictites, draperies, columns and soda straws.

Devils Spring

Devils Spring


Only growing stalagmite in cavern

Only growing stalagmite in cavern


Looks like a fountain

Looks like a fountain

Soda straws

Soda straws

There was also a display which showed the fragile ladder that the original cave explorers used. We doubted that we would have enjoyed climbing down such a ladder into complete darkness.

Cavern explorer's ladder

Cavern explorer's ladder

When we completed our "Big Room Route" we went back to the elevator and returned to the surface. The one-mile walk up 750 feet to return to the Natural Entrance did not appeal to us.

We wandered the exhibition hall, the book store, and the gift shop and returned to our car. We found this display which we thought was interesting.

Nature Cheaper than Therapy

Nature Cheaper than Therapy

We took the 9.5-mile loop road through the Chihuahuan Desert. We then stopped at a few information stops on the way out of the park. One of those stops was at a cave which was used by prehistoric and first nations people as a home/protection from the elements.

Prehistoric desert housing

Prehistoric desert housing

We met a woman at this last information stop who was from Ontario and was traveling in an RV. We also met a couple who said they had been traveling behind us on the loop road, and that after we passed one spot a herd of mule deer appeared on the road. They shared their photos with us.

All in all, it was a full day and a very rewarding day. We walked over 4 miles over challenging terrain. We felt pretty good about our 70-year-old selves.

Posted by A-RPoulton 20:46 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 11 - Guadalupe Mountains and Living Desert

So windy we were almost blown over

semi-overcast 15 °C

This morning we left El Paso, TX and started our drive to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas.

Our first stop was at a Border Checking Station. We know people think that the US does nothing to stop illegal immigration but, in fact, they are very proactive about this issue. These stations are set up on highways leading from Mexico into the US. Some days you are stopped and the border agents talk with you while a dog walks around your car and other times, like today, they just take your picture and a picture of your license plate and wave you through.

Border checking stations

Border checking stations

The drive from El Paso to the Guadalupe Mountains is 100 miles (161 kilometres). This drive has been described to us as 100 miles of nothing. We did not find that to be true but then we come from southern Saskatchewan where we love the scenery but others describe it as far more than 100 miles of nothing.

Along our route we found a historical marker that talked about Salt Flats. Mexicans and indigenous peoples harvested the salt left behind when the ancient shallow lake that occupied this area dried up about 10,000 years ago. This salt was used to preserve food, and to trade with others in the US and Mexico. When Europeans entered the area, they wanted to charge the Mexicans and indigenous people for the salt they harvested. The result was a war in the 1860's during which many people died and property was damaged. The historical marker indicated that, at the end of the war, Mexicans had to pay to mine the salt. As far as we know, this salt mining is no longer happening.

Salt Flats

Salt Flats

We found that watching the desert scenery and approaching the Guadalupe Mountains was interesting indeed.

First view of Guadalupe Mountains

First view of Guadalupe Mountains

Guadalupe Peak 8751 feet

Guadalupe Peak 8751 feet

We had been warned, while watching weather programs, that there would be significant wind today, and there was. We noticed the wind getting stronger as we traveled along.

When we reached the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, we could hardly get out of the car because the wind was so strong. We did get into the Visitor Centre and enjoyed the displays. Reta was even able to get photos of the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote. They had a very interesting display about birds and animals of the desert and mountains. We had never seen a ringtail which Reta did not get a picture of. Google tells us that this animal is a relative of the raccoon and is also known as a ringtail cat.

Guadalupe Mountain National Park

Guadalupe Mountain National Park

Stuffed Roadrunner

Stuffed Roadrunner

Stuffed Wile E. Coyote

Stuffed Wile E. Coyote

The best way to discover the Guadalupe Mountain Park is by hiking along their many hiking trails. The wind today made it nearly impossible for us to hike even the shortest trail. We ate our lunch in the car at one of their picnic sites. Reta glanced out the window at one point and saw a roadrunner right by the car but by the time she had the camera ready, the roadrunner had disappeared into the grass.

The Guadalupe Peak which is 8751 feet high (2667 metres) can be reached by a hiking trail. The brochure said this hike is about an eight hour hike for most people. There was a time when we would have been on the hike in a heartbeat but not today and not only because of the wind. This is the highest peak in Texas.

After lunch we drove to the ruins of the Butterfield Stage Station but did not get out of the car to investigate the ruins. We then drove to the Frijole Ranch History Museum but again a walk in the wind was required so we drove on. We then drove to the McKittrick Canyon day use area. There was a visitor centre there which we were able to get to. They had a 7-minute video that described the McKittrick Canyon, narrated by one of the men who lived there and donated the property to the National Park system. The video described how this canyon was formed and how beautiful it was.

We then started our drive to Carlsbad, NM. Reta found the windswept clouds very appealing and took a photo of her favourite.

Interesting clouds

Interesting clouds

We arrived at the Living Desert Zoo and Garden State Park on the outskirts of Carlsbad, NM about 2 PM. The wind had lessened a bit so we went into the visitor centre. This park is set up as a one-mile walking tour through areas of desert with plant life labeled and the ecology described. They had aviaries with birds typical of that area, plus displays of reptiles, bison, elk, mule deer, pronghorn, wolves, bobcats, mountain lions (he was hiding, did not see him), black-tailed prairie dogs and Javelina. We spent about 1 and 1/2 hours out there enjoying everything. When we walked back into the visitor centre, the staff thought that we had been blown away because the average visitor only takes one hour to complete the tour.

We took a picture of the elk. The story goes that the native elk of the area were hunted to extinction. The local people wanted to have elk back in their area so "Rocky Mountain Elk" were imported. These elk have not done well in these mountains and today only 40 or so still live there. We found that these elk do not look like elk we are used to, so are including a photo.

Rocky Mountain Elk

Rocky Mountain Elk

We drove on to our lodging in Carlsbad, NM and got settled. Reta noticed the spectacular sunset. Her camera shows that the time was 18:27 but that is the time in Regina. The time was 17:27 (5:27PM). A few minutes after this photo was taken the sunset faded. We were glad we had seen it.

Sunset at Carlsbad, NM

Sunset at Carlsbad, NM

Tomorrow we will explore the Carlsbad Caverns.

Posted by A-RPoulton 19:54 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 10 - Wile E. Coyote

New Mexico State Parks

sunny 15 °C

Our first stop today was at the City of Rocks State Park (NM).

City of Rocks

City of Rocks

The weather was warm and sunny. We drove around the rock formations and spent some time in the Botanical Garden. We thought the Visitors Centre was well designed for the environment.

City of Rocks view

City of Rocks view

This photo was taken from an overlook. We tried to show the Visitors Centre and the RV parking with the rock formations in the background.

These photos are samples of the rock formations. Many of the formations have camping sites near or in them. Some were occupied but the majority of the campers were in the electrified campsites.

Rock formations 2

Rock formations 2

Rock formations 1

Rock formations 1

These pictures are of some different types of cactus.

Blooming Cane Cholla

Blooming Cane Cholla

Barrel cactus

Barrel cactus

Cow's tongue cactus

Cow's tongue cactus

We found this hawk sitting on one of the rock formations at the overlook.

Hawk on a Rock

Hawk on a Rock

We drove from City of Rocks to Rockhound State Park.

We drove through the town of Deming, NM along the way. Reta spotted this tire cover on a Jeep that appealed to her sense of humour.

Love this sign

Love this sign

We had our picnic lunch at one of the picnic sites. Rockhound State Park focuses on people who hunt interesting rocks. They were excited when we got there because the recent rains had washed more rocks into view for the rock hunters to find. They claim that opals,quartz, agate, jasper, thundereggs and geodes are found in their park. Since we are not rock experts we were attracted to the roadrunners that we kept seeing. Reta was focused on hunting the roadrunners (like Wile E Coyote). We saw maybe ten of them and Reta felt she had not been successful in getting a picture of one. When we viewed our photos when we got settled in our hotel. Reta was excited to see that she got a photo even if it isn't the best. Wile E Coyote won!

Caught a Roadrunner

Caught a Roadrunner

We then drove over to the Spring Canyon section of the Rockhound State Park. This park was mostly day use sites with picnic facilities. We took pictures of the canyon and a large promentory rock over the canyon.

Spring Canyon

Spring Canyon

Up Spring Canyon

Up Spring Canyon

Down Spring Canyon

Down Spring Canyon

The most interesting thing about getting to this park was the roller coaster ride hill. Was fun going to the park and leaving the park.

Roller Coaster Hill

Roller Coaster Hill

Roller Coaster Hill 2

Roller Coaster Hill 2

Roller Coaster Hill 3

Roller Coaster Hill 3

It was a good day of wandering around New Mexico countryside. We drove on to El Paso, TX and are settled in for the evening.

Posted by A-RPoulton 20:18 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 9 - Slow Low AZ to Silver City NM

Nature

semi-overcast 8 °C

This morning we discovered why the city we were staying in was called Show Low. The story goes that two men started a ranch in 1830 (very early in west development) and worked together developing the ranch until 1875. One of the men decided in 1875 that he no longer wanted to ranch. Between them they decided that one of them should be the owner of the ranch. They decided to play poker to decide who would win the ranch. They chose the game "low ball". They reduced the game to one low card each to make the decision. They each had to show their lowest card. The lowest card was a 2 of clubs. Hence, the town is called "Show Low" and the main street is Deuce of Clubs. A very western and colourful reason for the name.

We left Show Low, AZ. Our goal was to reach the "Catwalk" in the Whitewater Box Canyon, NM, as the website described something we would enjoy doing. The website did advise that the recent flooding had caused the closure of the attraction but we thought maybe it was a day or two out of date so set off to find this fun attraction. We drove to the junction that would lead to the Catwalk and took a picture of the Historic Marker. This youtube describes what we would have experienced. It takes 3 minutes if you would like to view it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmLOcsBglRA

The object of the day was to go to this spot

The object of the day was to go to this spot

We started up the road and the first sign we saw featured a road runner bird. We only traveled a few feet and a real honest-to-goodness road runner bird ran across the road but Reta and the camera were not ready. Very disappointing as that was the first road runner we had ever seen.

We saw this sign and then saw a roadrunner bird

We saw this sign and then saw a roadrunner bird

We traveled further up the road and found water running across it but as we had crossed other flood plains in Australia we figured we could make it and we did.

We traveled about 5 miles up the road and then encountered a water flood over the road that we could not cross.

The water that stopped us

The water that stopped us

We then turned around and drove back to the highway. We took a photo of the flood wash that we did cross.

The flood zone we did cross

The flood zone we did cross

We drove back up the highway to a picnic spot and had lunch and a comfort break.

Where we stopped for lunch

Where we stopped for lunch

The nearby wash

The nearby wash

We continued up the road towards Silver City, NM and found some deer grazing in the ditches.

Mule deer by the road

Mule deer by the road

The lookout

The lookout

Running down the ditch

Running down the ditch

We were impressed because even though Reta got out of the car to take the photos they watched us carefully but did not bolt away.

Our drive to Silver City was uneventful after that. We found our lodging for the night. It is very comfortable. We will have a good night's rest.
The temperature here is 12 C (54 F) and feels like spring.

Posted by A-RPoulton 16:19 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 8 - What a difference a day makes

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

semi-overcast 10 °C

We woke this morning to bright sunshine. Art checked the website for the Grand Canyon and found that there are views of the canyon today.

We quickly changed our plans and decided to drive through the Grand Canyon NP to Flagstaff and stop at some viewpoints in the park along the way.

This is the view we had of the Canyon of the Little Colorado River as we loaded our car.

IMG_2810 Canyon of the Little Colorado River

IMG_2810 Canyon of the Little Colorado River

We took a picture of the Navajo roadside booths as we drove by. We mentioned them yesterday in our blog.

IMG_2813 Example of Navajo roadside booths

IMG_2813 Example of Navajo roadside booths

The closer we got to the Grand Canyon NP the more snow appeared.

IMG_2815 Still winter near the east entrance

IMG_2815 Still winter near the east entrance

When we reached the entrance we were greeted with the fact that, today being Martin Luther King Jr. Day, entrance into the park was free.

We drove to Desert View which we had visited yesterday. Today there was a view.

IMG_2816 View of Grand Canyon from Desert View

IMG_2816 View of Grand Canyon from Desert View

IMG_2817 Another view of Grand Canyon from Desert View

IMG_2817 Another view of Grand Canyon from Desert View

Reta could not resist taking a picture of this beautiful tree as we returned to our car.

IMG_2818 Beautiful tree covered in snow

IMG_2818 Beautiful tree covered in snow

We drove to the Grand Canyon Village and found a parking spot in the same parking lot we were in yesterday.

We walked to the Rim Trail right away and were rewarded with views of the canyon.

IMG_2819 Grand Canyon from Rim Walk at Village

IMG_2819 Grand Canyon from Rim Walk at Village

IMG_2822 View across canyon from Village

IMG_2822 View across canyon from Village

We took the time to walk along the Rim Walk for a while. We stopped at the Lookout Studio where we had the opportunity to walk out on the promontory to take photos.
IMG_2823 View of Grand Canyon from Lookout Studio

IMG_2823 View of Grand Canyon from Lookout Studio

We took a photo of the picturesque El Tovar Hotel and then turned around and took a photo of the Lookout Studio.

IMG_2824 El Tovar hotel

IMG_2824 El Tovar hotel

IMG_2825 Lookout studio

IMG_2825 Lookout studio

We walked back to our car and drove out of the village. We met another surprise visitor, a deer having lunch. The deer was not at all concerned about us driving by.

IMG_2830 - Deer having lunch

IMG_2830 - Deer having lunch

We were very impressed with the difference a day made in our Grand Canyon experience. We were happy yesterday because our experience had been so different from any we had had before and today we were happy because we actually got to see the canyon.

We drove out of the south entrance of the park. Our route took us across desert and into the San Francisco Peaks which are between the Grand Canyon and Flagstaff. We noticed a high temperature of 10 C ( 50 F) as we traveled through the desert. The temperatures dropped as we climbed into the mountains.

As we drove into the San Francisco Peaks we found more and more snow. We think we discovered an Arizona cultural experience. There were many, many spots where vehicles were pulled over to the side of the road and the families from those vehicles were out playing in the snow. The temperature was around 0 C or 1 C (32 F to 34 F). The police had signs up that said "Do not park and play in the snow" but generally they were ignored.

IMG_2833 Kids playing in the snow at the edge of the highway

IMG_2833 Kids playing in the snow at the edge of the highway

IMG_2835 picture 2 of families playing by the highway

IMG_2835 picture 2 of families playing by the highway

IMG_2837 Just stop by the road and play

IMG_2837 Just stop by the road and play

IMG_2841 Playing further from the highway

IMG_2841 Playing further from the highway

We did not think the families that played right beside the road were safe but some did play further off the highway. Another problem was that these vehicles were almost blocking the highway and people were getting in and out of them. These people seemed to be having the time of their lives regardless of the dangers.

We joined onto the "Old Route 66" in Flagstaff. We had lunch at a cafe that claimed it was in exsistence when Route 66 was an active highway.

IMG_2842 Route 66

IMG_2842 Route 66

IMG_2843 Lunch at a cafe on Old Route 66

IMG_2843 Lunch at a cafe on Old Route 66

We followed the few remaining sections of "Old Route 66" on our way to Show Low, AZ where we are spending the night.

Posted by A-RPoulton 21:15 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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