We did the 5ish hour drive from Big Bend to Carlsbad, NM mostly in the dark. I don’t think we missed much scenery, though, as we seemed to pass a lot of gas/oil fields. Unfortunately we could still smell them in the dark.
We decided to try boondocking (camping for free on public land with no hookups) near Carlsbad. We found a place that allows it, and has a circular clearing in a cow field for RVs. There were about 4 other RVs there when we arrived. I felt like it was a good ‘intro to boondocking’ since we weren’t entirely by ourselves.
It felt pretty stress-free to not have to make reservations or worry about deciding ahead of time how long to stay in a place. However, those pressures are replaced by wondering how long our batteries would last, if we’d have enough water, and where to dump garbage. It turned out the batteries lasted about two days. We stayed three nights before our batteries were exhausted and we had our own personal power outage. We learned a lot from this experience though, and I think we’d do better the next time. The best thing we learned is that we liked it, so we ordered a portable solar panel that will help us keep the batteries charged. This is our first time ordering something to be delivered to us on the road! We attempted to get it ‘General Delivery’ where they deliver it to the post office and we pick it up, but I guess the package was too big for that. So, when we moved to White’s City RV park, they said we could get a delivery there.
We spent a full day exploring Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The main attraction is a big cave, that is developed to include a walking path with handrails, modern bathrooms about 800 feet underground, and an elevator. There are many (at least 120) caves in the National Park area, but tours are only available in a few of them. We didn’t really plan ahead for this stop, so we didn’t get tickets ahead of time to any of the ranger-led tours, and they were all sold out due to spring break. Fortunately, they don’t pre-sell tickets to one tour a day through a few of the most ornate rooms of the main cave. We showed up bright and early when the visitor center opened, and snagged tickets for this tour.
We chose to walk in through the natural entrance, rather than take the elevator down into the cave. It was a steep trail, descending 750 feet in one mile. I’m glad we took it, because it allowed us to ease into the cave, rather than seeing the coolest stuff all at once. The first part of the cave, where there is still light entering, is smelly. There are birds and bats that live and poop there. The bats hadn’t arrived for the year yet, but a flock of birds did fly out when we entered. Brian got pooped on by a cave swallow!
After we made it down to the bottom, it opens up into the Big Room, and the Hall of Giants, that contains some impressively large stalagmites. The whole cave is decorated with amazing calcite formations. I was expecting stalagmites and stalactites, but there were many other types of formations. Many are named pretty obviously, like curtain, chandelier, soda straw, and popcorn. The curtains were my favorite. It was cool and damp in the cave, and the lights were really dim, with individual formations lit up.
It got pretty crowded in the cave, but people were good about keeping their voices down so we could hear the water dripping. The route led in a big circle around the room. There were many named cave formations, with signs describing them. Two interesting features are the Bottomless Pit (which is not exactly bottomless, but is very deep), and Iceberg Rock, which is a 200,000 ton boulder that fell from the ceiling of the cave.
I’m very glad we got into the King’s Palace Tour, because the rooms this tour went through were really decorated and beautiful. It was also fun to hear the ranger talk about the early cave explorers, those people were nuts. At the end of the tour we all sat on a short ledge in the Queen’s Chamber, and the ranger turned off the lights. It was so so dark. The darkest I’ve ever experienced. There was no difference between closing and opening my eyes. It was a cool experience.
It’s amazing to think how long it has taken for this cave to look the way it does. The ranger told us that there is one small tunnel passage that we went through in the tour, that was blasted through 85 years ago. In the 85 years since, stalactites have grown about a half-inch long and pencil thin. To think how long it has taken to create the massive formations is mind-boggling.
After our tour, we hiked out of the cave the way we came. The line for the elevator was over an hour long! The hike was steep, but much better than waiting in line for that long!
It was a fun way to spend our second wedding anniversary!
Day 167 | Mile 17,387