Day 27, November , 1997: Carlsbad Caverns, NM

Today was a round-trip sightseeing day. I'm back in the same room tonight that I was in last night. This isn't a bad thing since it is a very nice room in a new motel, and rather inexpensive to boot.

The drive out to Carlsbad Caverns from El Paso goes through about the same sort of terrain as I wrote about yesterday - boring and desolate but with an important exception. This grand exception is the Guadalupe Mountains. My impression of Texas has always been of a rather flat place with barely the energy to rise up into a ripple. This place is certainly an exception with the highest point in Texas - Guadalupe Peak. This isn't a flashy mountain and has no way of competing with its slightly shorter neighbor, the 8,000 foot El Capitan. Today's picture is of El Capitan with Guadalupe Peak in the background. There is a national park here with some beautiful sheltered habitats in the canyons that are unlike anything surrounding them.

Carlsbad Caverns are truly impressive. The main underground room covers an area equivalent to 14 football fields with many large branches extending from it. There are paths with guardrails all over this room and tourists are allowed to wander as they desire in this area. Other areas are limited to guided tours only and for the really hardcore it is possible to get permission to travel through some totally undeveloped areas (if you can prove you are likely to survive, anyway). The main room is around 750 feet underground. The deepest branches where anybody is allowed to roam are some 300 feet deeper.

A couple of things caught me unawares down below. One was the humidity. I knew that the temperature stayed at 56F in the cavern but I didn't realize what the 100% humidity would be like. Talk about feeling clammy! I had to take my jacket off after about ½ mile because it was soaked. The other problem was photographic. They are pretty stingy about the light down below, which is supposed to be to prevent algae from growing on the damp surfaces. The eyes adapt to the low level readily but for photography it stinks. Flash is useless, regular amateur-type flash anyway, because everything is so bloody big. For this reason, I'm not offering you any pictures from down below - the best of them is pretty awful.

The Caverns contain all of the things you'd expect in this sort of place with a great number of formations from the minute to the massive. Damn, I wish I could have photographed them, though.

Tomorrow I will be heading toward San Angelo, TX for a couple of days visit with the Buckbees, old friends of mine from Alaska. Bill was my boss in the Air Force some uncountable number of years ago but I didn't hold that against him and we became friends anyway. It is a six hour drive from El Paso to San Angelo and I have no idea what lies in between except that I've been told that the birthplaces of both Buckbees lies along the highway (although Grace's hometown was torn down and moved by the oil company that owned it literally leaving only the streets behind).

After a couple of days in San Angelo I will continue the 12,000 mile journey around the edges of the USA.


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