Arrived in Carlsbad on 9/13 and set up. As golden retrievers don’t do well in the desert heat, the next day I took Sunny for a swim at Sitting Bull Falls. This is an oasis in the middle of the Chihuahuan desert and we both cooled off in a crystal clear pool.
In the afternoon, I headed to the Caverns but arrived too late to get a ticket – last entry at 3:15. On the way out, I discovered a nine-mile scenic drive near the visitors’ center. This is a loopy, bumpy, gravel road, and I saw deer, mountains, and gorgeous desert landscape. I was all alone, and the nine miles took about an hour.
I got back to the visitors’ center in time for the bat flight. From spring to fall, hundreds of thousands of Brazilian freetail bats emerge from the Cavern’s natural entrance at twilight. No artificial lights or photography are permitted, so I could not document the event myself. Suffice to say the bats fly out of the cave by the thousands in a giant swirling cloud. At least two flew close enough to my head so that I could hear their wings flap. I watched for about an hour, until it got too dark to see. A ranger told me the bats would continue to emerge from the cave at this rate for at least another hour.
I woke up the next morning, took Sunny for a walk, and when I got back to the RV I discovered that my fresh water tank was overflowing and had spilled gallons of water on the ground. There is a valve that is supposed to close when one is connected to “city water,” which is a spigot connected to a water hose that runs into the RV. This valve was open and was filling my onboard fresh water tank until it overflowed. A couple of hours of internet research later (there’s a really excellent Facebook group for owners of my RV model), I determined I likely need a new water pump. Luckily I could disconnect from city water and use the tank, so this was not a trip-ending disaster. But still, it does prove the point that with RVs, it’s always something.
Finally I got into the Jeep and made the 40-minute drive to the Caverns. The largest room open to the public is about 800 feet down. There are two options for getting there. There are elevators – first installed in the 1930’s – or one can hike about 1.5 miles down dozens of switchbacks on a route that takes about 35 minutes to an hour, depending on stops for photos. I did the latter – down and back.
The cave is gigantic and otherworldly, and I’ve included many photos in the album (though my low-light photography is not the greatest). I am sometimes prone to claustrophobia, and at one point it occured to me that humans are not really supposed to be 800 feet underground in the dark. But the formations are so amazing that it’s hard to focus on anything else.
I returned the next day and took one of the novice-level ranger-led tours of the King’s Palace. There are a range of tours, including one of “Spider Cave,” which involves what looks to me like a return transit through a birth canal. Not on my list. Many areas in the Park are completely closed to the public, including Lechugilla Cave, one of the most beautiful in the world. The size of the place is almost impossible to comprehend – in Lechugilla alone more than 135 miles of passages have been mapped to date.
On my second day, I was the last visitor allowed to hike out. For almost an hour, climbing back-and-forth in the semi-darkness, I had the trail completely to myself. Every few minutes, I stopped long enough to let my pounding heart slow down and just listened. Silence. Silence and then the sound of quietly dripping water, echoing from the walls. No voices. No footsteps. I am not a spiritual person. But standing there, awestruck, I felt more than ever how tiny one human life is in the scale of geologic time and space.
That’s as semi-poetic as I get. But this is a magical place.
I left for home on 9/17, a little reluctantly, and spent a couple of days on the road. I stayed with family for a bit before parking the rig in Shawnee, getting back in the Subaru, and heading back to NJ. Off the road now until November