New Mexico! … and a little bit more Texas

Carlsbad Caverns was pretty sweet.   The drive to it was a little eerie.  On the way up a mountain pass the sky was blue and it was sunny and pleasant and on the way back down we entered this really dense fog and we couldn’t see much on either side of the vehicle.  It felt like we were going somewhere mysterious.  We stopped at this information center just off the main road to ask about the park and it looked like there was nobody there.  We knocked on the door and there really wasn’t anyone there, ooooooh, mysterious.  The next place down had someone and it had restrooms, thankfully.  They told us the park was just down the road a couple more miles so we headed out.  The road into the park was a winding fun road and we were going back up in elevation so we came out of that fog and it was all sunny again, yay.  When we got the the park visitor center, the parking lot was under construction, so we drove around some heavy machinery and found a parking spot.  We didn’t know how long we were going to be in the caverns and I was kinda hungry so I grabbed a water bottle and a bag of granola.  At the entrance door to the visitor center it said, “No Food Or Drink.”  Dang.  So… I walked back to the car to drop off the granola and walked back to the visitor center.  After talking to one of the park staff and getting tickets to go down into the caverns we found out it was going to be kinda cold down there, duh.  So we walked back to the car, again, and then back to the visitor center.  Next, we waited in a very short line and then got on an elevator to journey deep into the earth, about 750 feet I think.  The caverns were pretty eerie and mysterious and I had the feeling the whole time I was down there that I wasn’t really supposed to be there.  That feeling made sense because I wouldn’t survive down there very long since there’s virtually no food and no natural light.  The park had addressed the lack of light issue by putting lights in lots of places so people could see the stalactites and stalagmites and other crazy cave formations.  Apparently Carlsbad Caverns is one of the largest known cave systems in the world and it was definitely a lot bigger than the last cave I’d been in.

A couple years ago I went caving with a group of friends near Bloomington, IN.  It was on private property and one of my friends arranged with the owners ahead of time for us to go wandering around in the cave.  We were down in that cave for something like 4 or 5 hours and it was a lot of fun.  The friend who organized the trip was also the one that was the most claustrophobic, hmmm.  So, we didn’t have a map of the cave so we agreed before we went in that we’d all pay extra close attention to things on the way so that we wouldn’t get lost (do you see where this is headed?).  So we first entered this pretty big room and it looked like there was no way out so we started exploring and found a couple possible small tunnels and tried them out.  The first one I tried, I almost got stuck and couldn’t go any farther, them someone found the way.  We proceeded to crawl around in the cave and squeeze through really small spaces and climb on rocks and all sorts of fun stuff.  At one point we all shut off our headlamps and laid still and that was pretty impressive, utter silence and complete darkness.  I couldn’t even see my hand if I waved it right in front of my eyes.

We didn’t have that kind of freedom in Carlsbad Caverns as they had a walkway that you had to stay on and their were lights all over the place, but the cave formations were much more impressive and it was a lot bigger.  I’m sure there are more remote areas of that cave, but we didn’t get to see them and we were okay with that.  We walked around in the cave and listened to our little audio guide thing and learned a lot about the caverns and how they were formed and issues that the park has to deal with having all those visitors down there.  They have to go through and remove litterally (I spelled that wrong on purpose) tons of lint from the caverns every year because that is the biggest thing that gets left behind by people going through the caverns.  So we walked around looking at cave formations and the like for about an hour and then we were done, so we left.

Next stop was Dell City, TX to see if we could find the 10 acres of land that my Dad got suckered into buying way back in the 70’s.  We did find it, and it was about 10 miles directly west of the booming metropolis of Dell City.  With a growing population of 400 or so folks, it was clearly the place to be in the middle of the desert 2 hours east of El Paso……. right…  My Dad’s land looked like the rest of the desert around it, some plants here and there struggling to survive with the ridiculously small amount of rainfall, and it was really windy.  We talked to some folks in town to see if there were any real estate agents in town that could maybe help my Dad sell, but of the 400 people in the town, no real estate agents.  They suggested putting an add in the local newspaper.  We’ll see what happens.

We got outta there and headed toward White Sands National Monument back in New Mexico.  It was getting dark so we found this sweet campsite called Hueco Rock Ranch.  It was really close to this rock climbing hot spot called the Hueco Tanks.  We didn’t do any rock climbing, but we had a nice place to camp and it was free.  It wasn’t supposed to be free, but we got there late and left early and we didn’t really use anything, so we just scooted out and we were on our way.

White Sands National Monument was a pretty interesting place.  There are only a couple places in the world that have truly white sand.  This sand is made from gypsum which is water soluble which means it dissolves in water.  When it rains up in the mountains on either side of the valley that the national monument is in, the rain dissolves more gypsum from the mountains, carries it down to the valley and then evaporates and leaves the sand behind.  It rains so infrequently that any water that makes it into the valley just evaporates or soaks into the ground.  We did a little hiking on this “nature trail” and read some of the placards that explained some stuff about the plants and animals that survive in this place.  There is a willow tree that grows there that can be almost completely covered by the white sand dunes and can still survive because a few of its branches remain above the sand and can capture some of the sun.  Also, Kangaroo rats don’t need to drink any water, they apparently can make water from the seeds that they eat, wow.  Okay, enough White Sand, whats next?

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