Thursday, March 20, 2008

New Mexico and Carlsbad Caverns

Yes, after almost 3 months we have left Arizona!

A couple of weeks back I had written about our visit to Kartchner Caverns. They have two different tours; we were able to go on the Rotunda/Throne Room Tour but could not get a reservation for any date in March for the Big Room Tour. As we talked about how much we had enjoyed the Throne Room Tour and were disappointed that we could get on the Big Room Tour, we discussed how we need to go to Carlsbad Caverns someday. Then it hit us; oh yeah that’s why we are full timers so that we can just up and go even if it is 400 miles away. We also needed to get our monthly mail drop so we decided to stop at the Escapees RV Park in Deming for a couple of days to get mail and groceries.

Monday as we were packing up we had snow showers at the RV Park in Sierra Vista after a morning low of 24. As we drove east we had intermittent snow showers. Okay the snow didn’t stick to the ground, but when you are from California any snow counts. So now I can say I have pulled our trailer in the snow. :-)

Our trip to Deming was beautiful, the sky was blue and we could see for miles. We also went past by a herd of Pronghorns. When we arrived in Deming several people told us how lucky we were that we had not come the day before, because I-10 had been closed due to dust storms, zero visibility and several accidents.

Kathy thought she would help write the travel blog today.

We were in Carlsbad Cavern 800 feet below the surface having lunch today, in a cool 56 degree cavern! By way of El Paso, Texas, we made it to Carlsbad, New Mexico yesterday afternoon. It was one of our longest drives with the trailer in tow at 290 miles in 6 hours.

It all started when we thought we could get our Texas Driver’s Licenses in El Paso, Texas. It’s just a few miles south of Las Cruces, NM, why not?! However, the first Dept. of Public Safety office told us we had to have the vehicles registered first. And to do that we needed to contact the Dept. of Transportation, plus have the truck inspected by the County Assessor’s office. All of which were at various locations and required appointments! Those instructions seemed a little over-whelming, especially since we still have 6 months left on the truck’s CA license and 9 months on the trailer. Hmmm, maybe we’ll register when we come back from Alaska.

So when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Our destination for this part of the trip was Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Since we were so far south, the only way to go is through Texas and then up through the Guadalupe Mountains. There’s no direct way from Las Cruces to Carlsbad, it is really out of the way!

Since this is Spring Break week, we had a little difficulty finding an RV Park that could take us. 42 miles past the caverns and past the town of Carlsbad, we found a KOA with plenty of room, not to mention very large pull through spaces. A little pricey after only $12 a night at the Escapee Park in Deming, but it was the only show in town that could accommodate us! Lots of families camping here, quite a change after all of the “over 55” RV parks we’ve been to. Very quiet though: no highway noise, no trains and no planes, and the kids were tuckered out by 10:00.

Our body clocks have made the change to Mountain Time pretty easily, so we left the trailer by 8:15 this morning for the Caverns. We did 2 self-guided tours, using the audio wands which explained various points of interest along the way.

The first tour you enter the cavern via the Natural Entrance. A huge, deep, hole in the ground. They warned us it would be 800 feet downhill, in a mile! There were Cave Swallows flying all around, in and out of the cave entrance, quite a unique experience! I think some people on the tour thought they were bats, because they squeak and are brown! The Mexican Free Tail bats don’t use the caves until April then leave in October. But we got to see the “Bat Cave” where they raise their young.

Then from there you can start the second tour which was The Big Room, another 1.5 mile loop. Fortunately, there’s an elevator after this tour that takes you back up to the surface. Thank goodness, that would take quite a while to climb back up! The trails are paved but very steep.

We decided after we completed the first tour to have lunch down there. The National Park has a concession down at the bottom of the cave that sells pre-made sandwiches, with chips & cookies, plus soft drinks. Picnic tables made for very good relief on tender knees and feet. A very curious picnic underground, no sunburn worries here! Another “first” for us!

Revived, we continued the second self-guided tour. This is where the real stalagmites and stalactites decorations begin, all so wonderfully hanging over the ions of years! The ceilings were incredibly high in the cavern and the Big Room is so large. It could hold 14 football fields! So many rock formations and textures, my shutter finger was going crazy. They try to keep the lighting to a minimum so that the wrong kind of bacteria doesn’t start growing. This would deteriorate the integrity of the formations if algae or fungi started to grow. I had my flash but not my attachable strobe, which would have been brighter. Oh well, I hoped for the best!!

The ride up the elevator only took 56 seconds to ascend 800 feet.
At the surface the temps had climbed to 81 degrees, time to remove the sweatshirts!

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