A learning experience
20.01.2017 - 20.01.2017 18 °C
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.