Carlsbad Caverns

Packed up our square grey govt-issue Astro mini-van Friday evening and headed east on I-25 (rt. 66) from Albuquerque. After passing through the canyon between the Manzanos and Sandia Mountains, the landscape flattens out onto the eastern plains. I don’t think there’s another bump east of there for at least a few states. This is kind of fun and different for a while and we like the sunset and the breeze through the windows and occasional sightings of antelope and abandoned adobe ranches. But then you get to Cline’s Corners (where there is the biggest, tackiest travel centre/gift shoppe in the world. I like the wall shelf unit of personalized coffee cups saying “The Smith’s” or “The Malloy’s” complete with quote marks and misplaced apostrophe) and turn south and things get even flatter and more barren all the way to Roswell.

Roswell is kind of bland other than the alien thing, but Artesia, the next town south, is just plain awful. Just before Artesia is a series of mounds of cow manure heating up under plastic held down with tires, and the smell is indescribable. Then the cowshit odor dissipates so that your palate is cleansed and you can enjoy the aroma of some kind of natural gas plant that makes you reel from the stink. We stopped to watch the fire shoot from the chimneys and partly I admit we wanted to breathe the air for a while because we couldn’t believe people live around there and put up with it. And because unlike them, we could just drive away from it.

We got a room at the Holiday Inn and went out for dinner in Carlsbad, where apparently no one has ever seen an interracial family before. The other patrons were staring, slack-jawed and paralyzed by our presence. The good part was that when we got in the outdoor hot tub, the other people got out, so we got it to ourselves. So see? There is always a silver lining!

Saturday morning we drove south another 28 miles to Carlsbad Caverns, the main point of the trip. Before we get to the cave, my ten year old daughter, Olivia asks, “Am I going to hit my head on Something-agtites in there?” She always has the best lines. Carlsbad Caverns was awesome. What can I say? The place is absolutely enormous and magic and unending. Cave rooms the size of football stadiums, then tunnels leading to other rooms and all kinds of surrealistic visions. (Remind me to tell you the story of the last time I was here five years ago with twelve gay men and my son Nigel on a special tour of the caves, and after the big cave conservation “you-can’t-even-chew-gum-in-here” ranger lecture, little Nigel PISSED in the cave when they turned out the lights.)

After walking for a few hours in this chilly otherworld underground, my husband Byron ran the seven miles back and the kids and I drove back to our hotel in White’s City.

I had gotten a reservation in a hotel in White’s City, because I read that this was the nearest place to stay by the caves. Turns out this is NOT a “city.” This is one of those hokey 1950s phony “Western Town” strips of “shoppes” in the middle of nowhere, cashing in on its proximity to one of the wonders of the world. And selling homemade fudge, candles, gaudy “Indian” crap, tee shirts and there is “Granny’s Opera House” and “The Velvet Garter Saloon” and just to add to the festive note, as you walk along the wooden walk in front of the shops, little speakers sing, “Howdy Pardners, and Welcome to White’s City!!” We averted our eyes in embarrassment, but at least enjoyed the swimming pool/waterslide park by the hotel.

That night around dusk, we drove back to the natural entrance of the cave, and sat in an outdoor amphitheater with some other tourists, waiting for the bats to come out. Mexican Free-Tail bats live in the cave from May until Sept. and exit nightly to spend the night flapping around the Pecos River in the moonlight, eating insects before returning to their roosts (and their young) at dawn. When we got there at around 7pm, there were thousands of cave swallows , which at first were easy to mistake for bats, but they head into the cave for their nests when the bats head out. A ranger gave a little presentation that made me want to give up everything I do to go off and study bats. She said they had been leaving the cave every night for the last two weeks at around 8pm, then she looked at her watch and said huh, they must be late tonight. It was 8pm on the nose and right behind her, a million bats come swirling in a reverse tornado from the depths of the cavern. What a spectacle. What a cliche, but… what a sight to see. Man! That’s all I can say about that.

That night back at the hotel I watched some birds swooping around in the lights over the swimming pool and was disgusted by a hotel worker telling me they were bats when clearly they were not. Nor were they swallows. A quick search of my bird book identified them as Lesser Nighthawks. I watched them for a long time after my family went to bed.

Sunday we went back to the caves and took the ELEVATOR 800 ft. down to an unlikely gift shop/lunch room in the middle of the earth (I hate to admit this, but my only memory of visiting Carlsbad Caverns with my El Paso, Texas relatives when I was seven years old is of the box lunch with the cheese on white bread sandwich I had down there in the underground cafeteria).

We took a “special tour” of part of the cave with an appallingly verbose ranger, which just intensified my crush on the female ranger from the night before…ln her little green hat and olive epaulette shirt… but I digress.

So after our Sunday morning cave tour, we repacked the grey-box car and headed back north. Byron decided to take a shortcut on a two-lane road zigging northwest through the most remote part of the state. The only “town” on this route through the rangeland was called Willard and I couldn’t imagine anything much being there. With breathy rainstorms on the horizon and the kids asleep in the back, Byron said, “Would you like a fried egg on your red chile enchiladas?” I said yes, and a slice of lime with my Tecate, if you have it.

Without the slightest hope of anything like this - in the middle of nowhere on a Sunday - we entered the six building town of Willard to find a place called “Willard Cantina y Cafe,” with the daily special being “Carne Adovada.” With Tecate beer and a slice of lime.

That was beautifully told. Well done!

Hard to believe, in this day and age.

I’ve never been to Carlsbad (something I’ve got to rectify, one of these years), but I experienced something like that, if on a smaller scale, climbing out of Hellhole just before sunset.

Hellhole is a cave in Pendleton County, WV, and its entrance, at the bottom of a large, conical sinkhole, is a 160-foot free rappel to the floor of the cave. Rappelling in is easy; climbing back out on Gibbs ascenders was one of the three or four most physically taxing things I’ve ever done.

I finally made it to the lip of the entrance, at the bottom of the sinkhole, as the sun was sinking low, and just laid there exhausted for awhile.

And then the bats came out, filling the sink and the sky above, like an enormous cloud of mosquitoes. It was spectacular - and I’m sure it’s nothing compared to what you saw at Carlsbad.

Digress! Digress! :smiley:

Yum. Drool.

[[Hard to believe in this day and age]]

Well, or maybe we’re just unattractive or they don’t like kids, no matter what color they are.

[[Digress! Digress!]]

That was a joke. Sorry!

Oh, I miss the West. I’m jealous of you, Jill, living in Alburquerque. My husband’s never been west of Dallas–never west of St. Louis before he met me–and just has no idea. He thinks he’s seen pictures so he has some idea what I am talking about.

But Carlsbad is fantastic. After the cave, the thing I remember most was this lettle Mexican resteraunt in Carlsbad proper where they put potatos in the tacos. Very yum. And the cave it self just can’t be compared to anything.

I do have one question, though: is some of the lighting in CC colored? The spot lighting on the formations, I mean. My sister and I were at a local cave recently, and it was brown, brown, brown. We both remembered Carlsbad as being really colorful, and we were wondering if that was the lights or the stones themselves.

Refreshes fond memories of a trip with Mom! :cool:

[[I do have one question, though: is some of the lighting in CC colored? The spot lighting on the formations, I mean. My sister and I were at a local cave recently, and it was brown, brown, brown. We both remembered Carlsbad as being really colorful, and we were wondering if that was the lights or the stones themselves.]]

They used to do that (they did that to everything in the 60s), but now it’s just subtle white lighting. The most impressive thing to me, besides the existance of the cave at all, is the work they did so long ago to make it accessible to people. Blasting out an elevator shaft and all… it’s really amazing. And much has been done in recent years to protect the natural cave.

Some years back, my husband was doing some work in El Paso for a few months and I flew out to visit him for a long weekend. We went to the caverns one afternoon - it was amazing! Unfortunately, it was also January, so we didn’t get to see the bats, but we got an “Adopt-A-Bat” kit for our daughter.

I’d love to return some day.

My sister got me one of these. I named my bat Gene, and I love him.

I saw Carlsbad Caverns with my family, when I was a child. At the time I was a very well behaved thing, but I was so tempted to try and sneajk off the beaten path. I imagined myself finding a new cave, like in the movies, maybe with dinosaur survivors. Ah. memories!

Plus, during the ranger’s talk, in which he talked about how the bat guano had been mined out, one little kid piped up and said “Why don’t they just call it bat shit?”