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Two days at Carlsbad Caverns - catlinye_maker [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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Two days at Carlsbad Caverns [Mar. 1st, 2013|07:43 pm]
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How the heck is it March already? I wanted to be sure to post something about the second half of our New Mexico adventure, which was in early February. Well, better late than never…

In early February, from Alamogordo we crossed the New Mexico mountains and headed down to the south-eastern corner of the state. Still high desert, but now instead of testing ranges the plains are dotted with oil derricks. We camped at Brantley Lake, a very nice state park on a very low water lake. The campground is a ways off the main road, so you’re driving and driving and wondering where it is, but as with last time at Oliver Lee Memorial SP, we didn’t run out of pavement before we reached the park. The sites are paved and well-spaced, with water and electric hookups and a good dump station. Cell coverage was poor, though, even after we put the booster up. I think this has to do with being a Verizon customer using the AT&T towers; you’re the first to be bumped in that situation.

Carlsbad Caverns 1

On Saturday my friend S arrived from the northern tier of the state and we had tacos for lunch and then headed for Carlsbad Caverns. We took two days to visit the caverns; the first day we arrived in the afternoon and took the elevator entrance to the self-guided tour of the “Big Room”. It is huge; large enough that we weren’t able to do the whole thing; by the time we reached the second half it was closed for the afternoon. That’s ok, I certainly didn’t feel like we missed anything and it will be something new to see the next time we are there. S and I took loads of photos and our cameras did better than expected in the dark environs (much better, in the case of my little point-and-shoot.)

The best of my many pictures are here on my Flickr page. As always, click to embiggen if desired. Next time we go I think I want to do the recorded tour, just so I can label my photos; I got lots of great shots but except for a couple of them I can’t tell you what they show, other than “Carlsbad”.
We both noticed the cave lighting: pink and green and white and amber juxtaposed, giving us some really pretty shots. After a while I stopped taking photos and just gaped. Everywhere we looked there was something amazing to exclaim over. We left the cave as they were closing for the night, making plans for our return trip the next day.

On Sunday we got up early and ate a hearty breakfast, since the likelihood of lunch was pretty small. We had tickets for the easiest of the ranger-led tours, the Kings Palace tour, and S and J wanted to come into the cave via the natural entrance, which would add about an hour to the trip.

I’d looked at the literature, saw the “20% grade” notice, and informed my spouse that there was no way that was for me. I suffer from fear of heights, and it’s cumulative. So once I’m scared, even hills which would normally be no big deal loom larger and scarier. I knew if I made it down the natural entrance I’d be wrecked and wouldn’t enjoy the tour. So instead, I spent some time browsing in the bookstore and, after a while, headed down to wait in the lunchroom by the elevator.

S and J showed up just as I was starting to wonder where they were, and we had just enough time for them to slug down some water and organize themselves before the tour started. They told me the walk down had been everything they hoped and I feared: dramatic vistas, slippery slopes with fall-offs to either side, minimal handrails. I was glad to have made the right choice for me, though I know J enjoyed the hike. They were both a little miffed to find that the first part of the tour retraced their steps, and agreed that there should be a wait point on the trail for tour participants to join in.

Once again the views were stunning, and the guide was entertaining and informative. He told us about the early days of Carlsbad as a tourist attraction, when they used the newly carved elevator shafts to supply natural air conditioning to the visitor’s center. On noticing that the pools in the cave were drying out as the air rushed up the shafts, they just ran hoses to replenish them. Nowadays, the elevators are accessed via revolving doors into an airlock chamber, keeping air and water loss minimal.

I got a chance to ask about the beautiful lighting, and learned that it’s purely serendipitous. The lighting in the cave uses different bulbs based on when it was installed, and the colors change as the bulbs age. The park service is experimenting with LED lighting, in the hopes of finding wavelengths of light that won’t support damaging algae growth while still letting us see the beauty of the caves. I was glad to have a chance to see it in its accidental colors instead.

We all enjoyed the guided tour, and by the time it was over we were beat and ready to head home. On the way out, we drove the scenic gravel drive around the mountain, spotting quite a few mule deer who were clearly wondering what the heck we were doing on their range.