Saturday, May 24, 2008

Carlsbad Caverns - favorite place on the whole trip

What a magical place we visited on the last day of 2007 - Carlsbad Caverns!

It's a huge series of caverns underneath the Guadalupe Mountains in southeast New Mexico, 700 feet underground and extending for miles. It doesn't look impressive when you drive up, the visitor center has been gutted for remodelling and all the services are operating out of a string of gray trailers in the parking lot. The cafeteria food was microwave dismal. But, as in all the National Parks we visited, the rangers were friendly and helpful.

To get to the caves you must either walk in the natural entrance, which adds about an hour onto your tour, or go down the elevator. Since we only had a few hours, we opted for the elevator, which is not for the claustrophobic. I had a mild panic attack and had to do lamaze breathing to keep myself together. The idea of going 700 feet under the earth in a little metal box made me a bit anxious.

On arriving in the huge central lobby we sat for a while and regrouped. None of us had ever been in a big cave before. It was so quiet down there and always a comfortable 56 degrees F. I started feeling better right away, as long as I didn't think about all the rock between me and the sky.

The caves were first explored by a cowboy named Jim White in 1898. The local native people apparently never went further than a few hundred feet in, but old Jim was smitten with the place and charted miles of it. He spent his life trying to share his enthusiasm for the place and helped get it declared a National Park.

The "rooms" have names like the King's Palace the Queen's Chamber, and Fairyland. White named some of the prominent formations, such as the Witch's Finger, Bottomless Pit, Temple of the Sun, and Rock of Ages. You can see animal shapes, goddesses, cathedrals in the rocks. The Park Service has it beautifully lit and the paths are pretty easy to walk. Much of it is even wheelchair accessible.

Paul was really awed by the place and wants to go back. He said he had never felt such calm energy. It's hard to describe. I think it allows you to become just a little more attuned to the slow, slow, geologic-scale movement of time. It was hard to take good pictures without a tripod so I copied three of these from the National Park website.

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