Monday, October 15, 2012

Day 41 - Carlsbad Caverns National Park

We had a lovely night for star watching last night.  The temperature was a bit on the cool side but there were lots and lots of stars to gaze at.  Here's something I never really thought about:  If you live near an oil refinery and the wind is blowing in the right direction you can smell petroleum products in the air.  We were sure the truck had sprung some sort of a leak but it was only the smell of our fossil fuels being converted into something we can use up.
Wildlife sighting (I borrowed the photo from Wikipedia).  We saw a jackrabbit while we were returning home from our bike ride last night.  It was moving pretty quickly away from us.  Brett offered to go off road and follow it but I felt it would be wiser to let it go on its merry way.  They certainly have very large ears.  Brett says that this is a cooling mechanism.

There is an oil well next to the road from the campground to Carlsbad.  Since there was no closed gate we decided to go over and take a closer look.  The petroleum smell around this thing was overwhelming.  I'm sure it would not be a good idea to drop a match.

We are now in the Chihuahuan desert which straddles the US-Mexican border.  It is higher in elevation than the Sonoran desert so has a slightly milder climate (mild being a relative term here).  Most of the 40 mile drive to the national park was over flat land dotted with oil wells.  As we turned onto the National Park road we started approaching these small mountains.  The road contains a lot of curves, hairpin turns and switchbacks.  I snapped this photo from the truck as I could not bring myself to stand on the edge of the road.  There was a couple of hundred feet worth of drop off right after the barrier.  You can see the road twisting between the hills.
From ground level, the National Park appears to be a parking lot and a large building.  This building houses the restrooms, restaurant, gift shop, book store and the elevators down to the cavern.  You can also walk down to the cavern through the natural entrance but this is strenuous exercise and didn't seem to fit my physical condition.  All of the ranger led tours were already full for the day so we decided to rent the audio tours and have a look on our own.  There was a huge tour bus pulling in as we arrived and we were afraid there would be crowds.  We were wrong.  I don't think that this is an especially busy time of year.  We approached the elevator and a ranger was right there to take us down. 
This elevator was on the way up and had just passed 550 feet.  The main entrance is 750 feet down.  The elevator has glass in the wall so that you can see the stone passing by as you descend.  I wasn't sure how I was going to do in a cave.  The thought of all that earth and rock above me didn't seem very comforting.  I once had to leave an aquarium because we went into this glass tunnel thing under the main tank and I seriously could not breathe once I started to think about the weight of the water and how awful it would be if it sprung a leak.  But my mind gave me a break today and not only didn't I freak out but I really enjoyed the whole experience.  Once you exit the elevator, you pass through a set of revolving doors to reach the main cave "lobby".  The doors weren't always there.  Years ago the park service decided to air condition the elevator building above with the cooler air from the cave (which seems like a really good, energy saving idea).  But they discovered that the moisture levels in the cave were going down so they installed the doors and everything went back to the way it should.  This is called an unintended consequence (I actually listened to the audio guide!).  My first sensations were of a dark gloom (there are lights but not too many in any one area and not too bright) and of a chill.  Brett suggested that I bring a jacket and I am glad that he did.
Photos are allowed along with flash.  I decided to document the trip using my iPhone and was a bit skeptical as to the results when I saw how dark it was.  You can judge for yourself.  I think that with some post-processing these are actually quite nice.  I will note that the colors are not quite what they seem in the photos (the processing tends to increase the saturation) and there is quite a bit of noise in some (it's an iPhone in low light after all).  I will let the cave speak for itself.
 Stalagmites build from the ground up and stalactites build from the ceiling down (like icicles they form from slowly dripping water).
 Brett used his flash a lot more than I did.  It will be good to get his photos into our collection.  I'm glad that he is having so much fun using his iPhone.  The formations on the walls are referred to as decorations. 
This formation is called popcorn.

All these photos are from the Big Room (which is 4000 acres in size).  You follow a sidewalk with railings around the whole area.  The walk is advertised as taking about 1 1/2 hours.  I think we took about 2 1/2 hours because there was just so much to see.  I strongly advise using the audio tour option if you go somewhere and have that choice.  All that we have tried were professionally done and added so much to the experience.  I mentioned that there were bus loads of people but in this enormous space they really kind of disappear.  You are asked not to speak loudly because the cavern acts like an echo chamber.  There was a church-like feeling with all the hushed tones.  The cavern does have lights which were designed by a lighting artist.  Kudos to that artist.  There are just enough lights to show off the different features but they are placed so that they don't shine in your face and they don't light up everything.  It is still very cave-like in there.  Part way through the walk there is a "short cut" path and I think that a lot of people choose this.  For the last part of the walk there were long stretches where there were no other people but us.  A very nice experience.

I will admit to being a bit winded towards the end of the walk (there is some uphill climbing) and I was ready to be done when we returned to the main lobby.  We decided to eat lunch at the restaurant there.  I chose a Mexican pork with a sauce served over rice.  It was very good.  Then we spent some time (and money) in the bookstore.  I also remembered to take my National Park Passport and got my official cancellation stamp. 

On our way back to camp we got groceries and fuel so that we will be all set to leave tomorrow morning.  The sunset tonight was beautiful.

1 comment:

  1. Your mind senses a difference between submersible and sedentary. You rock