Thursday, July 7, 2016

New Mexico Day 7

Bottomless Lake State Park has turned out to be one of the nicest surprises of the vacation. It was not a planned stop, but just a place Laurie found to park the motorhome. This morning we took a nice nature walk through the wetland. It was only a half-mile, and the horseflies were pretty bad. But we did see lots of birds including a turkey vulture, red-winged blackbird, killdeer, black-crowned night heron, meadowlark, and a few bunnies.

Dax and Seth (and Mark) love looking for fish and frogs everywhere.
We have done a lot of adventuring so far and you can see that Dax is wearing out. :)
This Turkey Vulture surprised us and took off right over our heads.
Glen made Dutch oven breakfast, and we started out the two hour drive to Carlsbad Cavern National Park at about 10 am. We got the rig parked and headed directly in to the park. The main tour of Carlsbad Cavern is unguided, and we wanted to do that, plus one other ranger-guided hike. We were a little worried because the national parks website had an alert yesterday that the park would be closed all day tomorrow and visitors would not be allowed entry. We knew we had to get it all in today. When we arrived at the park, we found out the President Obama and the First Family are coming into the park tomorrow and that is the cause of the shutdown. Luckily, we got our tour tickets for the King's Palace and still had time to do the main tour ourselves.

First, we turned in the boys' Junior Ranger Night Sky booklets that they started working on at Bryce. Then we hooked them up with the Carlsbad Program. Finally, we hopped in the elevator and began the 800 foot descent into the cavern. We were surprised when we stepped out into a giftshop and small cafe complete with restrooms. It was dark, and quiet, and the room was as big as a church chapel and gymnasium. Our plan was to walk the first half of what they call the Big Room and then shortcut back in time for our tour. Then we'd do the second half of the Big Room after our tour. We stepped into the Big Room and we were stunned. No picture or description can really help you understand the size of the cavern. The far walls seem miles away. It is like looking across a football stadium at the other seats. The ceiling is as much as 200 feet above your head. Just to walk through the perimeter of the cave takes an hour and a half. That's right, there is really only one room on the main tour. It goes in and out of a few narrowed down spots, but you walk for an hour and half around ONE ROOM! They call this the Big Room, and there are bottomless pits, thousands of cave features, holes in the ceilings and a paved walkway. The cave changes as you walk, past a fairy garden that looks just like fairies could dance there, past a bone yard that looks like bleached whale bones, and past a bottomless pit that actually has a bottom 140 feet down. One of the most impressive features is what they call Lower Cave At the far end of the cave just as it doubles back, you come to what is essential a balcony. You look down and the lower room spreads out below at a dizzying depth. It is 100 feet or more down and yards and yards across. It felt like looking off the end of Dead Horse Point. We were in awe of the vastness of the cave, and nothing we've done even comes close to it. The other thing that was amazing was the reverence people had for this cavern. No one, not even our children talked aloud. Everyone whispered and walked very quietly.
We can't wait to go into the cave. 
We worked on our Junior Ranger programs at the restaurant tables.
These are some of the tall features in Carlsbad.
There is no way to capture the vastness of the cave and most of my pictures are blurry and dark.
There are pools of water in some spots and they are so clear. 
This is the lion's tail--it looks just like one, huh?
We made it around the inner loop with almost a half hour to spare, so the boys worked on their Junior Ranger books in the lower terrace cafe. They were almost finished when our tour started at three. This was a special ranger-guided tour that ran 90 minutes and led through the King's Palace. This is a different, much smaller section of the cave (but still pretty big) that a lot of people don't get to see. You have to be 4 to go on this tour, and with Seth just two weeks shy of his birthday, we let him go anyway. The tour led through the King's Palace, the Queen's Chambers, the Papoose Room, the Keyhole, and a few other rooms. The sheer vastness of the cavern was gone, but we really enjoyed the ranger. She told the story of the discovery of the cave by a boy who was just 16 years old. He started giving tours, and a picture he took ended up in National Geographic. Soon a national park was born. She also told the story of the three men who used helium balloons to anchor a rope to the ceiling 180 feet up. They climbed up through the hole and discovered a whole new vast room and many other smaller rooms above the Big Room. The rope still hangs in the Big Room, and every few years someone goes up and makes sure it is secure. She even told about how this cave is 35 miles long, but another cave that is not open to the public is 142 miles deep so far. It is still being explored, but it takes 3 weeks just to get to the end of the exploration zone, and everything must be packed in and out, so it is difficult to go any deeper. Everyone agreed that ten days living in a motorhome was worth this tour.
This is the fossilized bat on the wall. It has been there for a long time--no one knows how long.
This is the King's Palace.
This is another view of the King's Palace--the other side when you walk back through.
Mom and Seth in the Papoose Room.
Seth was getting a little tired, and we had walked three miles, but we really wanted to see the back of the Big Room. This required hurrying through the inner loop we'd seen to the outer loop, and we didn't have too much time. So Dad carried Seth on his shoulders at a near run with the others trailing along behind until we got to the second loop. Once we got started, it was okay, because they won't kick you off until you finish. We loved the outer loop as much as the inner, although we were achy and tired and Seth had also made Dad's spine telescope down into the top of his shorts.
This is called the Chandelier and it hangs in the big room. 
After the outer loop we caught up with Laurie and Glen, who'd skipped the King's Palace. We had dinner at the Visitor's Center. We weren't done yet. We turned in the second Junior Ranger of the day and then we looked around the small museum. We had a little time to burn before the bat exodus. Finally, a little before 7 pm we headed over to the amphitheater for the bat program. The benches are stone and not very welcoming, but there was a ranger there to answer questions and talk about the bats. We sat for over an hour, and final she said, "Well, it's eight o'clock. They should be coming out soon." Right on cue a swirl of bats came up out of the cave. The swirl became a spiral, and then a tornado of bats spinning out of the natural entrance and up into the sky like a puff of smoke. Four hundred thousand bats flew out of the cave, whirled over our heads, and sped away into the darkness. We watched for a half hour until the tornado stopped, though the ranger said it would start again with more bats and be off and on for hours. We got back to the motorhome late, but happy. It was a really great day!
The Visitor Center had some fun things for the boys.
We saw this Collared Lizard on the way down to watch the bats.
The bat flight program was almost as amazing as the cave.

1 comment:

  1. Mark went to Carlsbad as a kid, and ever since he told me about it years ago, I've wanted to go. Thanx for the great description! Now I really want to go. It sounds absolutely amazing!!


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