johnny March 29th, 2009
I hate to post two stories so close together, but since our internet connection is about to go from ‘two tin cans and a string’ to ‘no one can hear you scream’, I’m going to go ahead and put up the Carlsbad post along with a link to the fancy pictures.
One of the sights we were both looking forward to since we hit the road was Carlsbad Caverns. Neither of us had been here since we were children and while I couldn’t recall anything about the cave, I remember being fascinated throughout the entire trip. Since we’ve taken up caving as a hobby, Carlsbad has taken on the aspect of your run of the mill holy shrine and a required pilgrimage.
We knew our America the Beautiful pass would get us into the Big Room for free, but one day underground wasn’t going to do it. We’re trying to stick to a budget here, so rather than paying for a guided tour of other sections of the cave or other caves in the park, I emailed a couple of people in the local grotto and asked if they had anything going on. It was short notice, but they both responded and took us on two separate trips in two days with two caves each day!
Day one, we hit the Parks Ranch cave system while we were waiting on one person that was traveling from El Paso for the trip. It was a fairly narrow system that was much drier, hotter and full of sharp gravel than we’d become used to on the east coast. There was a small campground right above the cave system, so we left the camper right there for the night and hitched a ride with Phyllis to Slaughter Canyon.
I learned just how hardcore desert cavers are for the next part of the trip. We hiked a bit over ninety minutes across the desert to reach Christmas Tree cave. Before even reaching the cave, I was just about out of water. Luckily, it was a pretty easy cave that was much cooler than Parks Ranch and we came out at sundown for the return hike. Christmas Tree is a very decorated cave. There are formations all over the place including the cave’s namesake ‘Christmas Tree’ formation that actually looks like a small evergreen was planted and then calcified.
On day two, we met up wth Kevin, who was taking a family group from Colorado out for the girls’ first wild cave tour. They sure got a fair bit of excitement – the first cave we jumped in was Yellow Jacket and within thirty feet of the entrance we found a fair sized Western Diamondback curled up and none too happy about intruders in his home. We were glad he’d taken up residence at the far side of a fairly large room so we could ease past him. Overall, this cave had very few decorations and was mazy with a few tight squeezes. Jenn finally got to see just how fat I am when she wriggled through a hole that was so tight on me that I was forced to exhale in order to move forward and had to quickly pull my pants back up after exiting the hole! That squeeze ended up being our stopping point as one of the group couldn’t fit and one of the girls had no intention of trying.
The kids must’ve had a good time, though, because everyone was up for a run over to Doc Brito, which is a fairly short cave. The only really interesting part of this trip was a hairy section on the climb down. I went first and missed the hole for an easy climb down. I was left hanging by one arm with a short drop onto unknown ground. I managed to pull myself back up and onto the right path with a lot of huffing and puffing. Everyone else got a mini-lecture on which route to take as even a small drop like that could have been nasty with an unlucky landing and the bad route seemed to attract most people as it was the easier to see coming in.
On day three, we rested! Thanks very much to Phyllis and Kevin for organizing these trips. Thanks also to Brenda, Amy, Bryant, Gina, Andy and his family for making the trips so enjoyable. Gypsy cavers couldn’t hope to come across a friendlier group than the Pecos Valley Grotto.
Finally, on day four we made it to Carlsbad. We took the natural entrance to the Big Room and were likely the slowest people there that day as we had to stop and shine flashlights into all sorts of nooks and crannies. Also, I had to shoot roughly a hundred pictures; but sadly, most of them didn’t turn out too well because the scenes are just so large and impossible to light up well. We did get a few good shots, though. Now we have an excuse to go back again soon.
We ended up taking something like five or six hours to make it through the ‘basic’ tour. I do believe we were passed by everyone that started the tour after us, including an entire busload of Asian tourists who would pause for a few seconds, stick up a camera phone to snap a picture and move on. For all I know, their pictures turned out better than ours. We did, at least, see what we were taking pictures of and sat down a few times just to enjoy the scenery and peace. But, I guess they had to hurry as they have an entire country to see while they’re on vacation. I’d hate to hear what it sounds like during the summer after hearing the approaching tour group!
I won’t even try to describe Carlsbad. You can see a few of the keeper pictures from the gallery here. However, the pictures don’t even come close to doing it justice. You’ve really got to see it for yourself.