Monday, September 07, 2015

Day 16: Carlsbad, New Mexico to Bernalillo, New Mexico via Carlsbad Caverns National Park

We woke up to rain.

That’s fine since we basically went to sleep to a lite rain but the night was not a good one.  The bed creaked every time we moved, the noise outside our room was idiotic at one in the morning, and the room had signs everywhere saying that we were responsible for anything we stole.  There were three signs in the room that were supposed to be a deterrent from stealing.  That’s didn’t make us safe.

On our way to Carlsbad Caverns I noticed something looking south into Texas.  I noticed fires.  Not regular fires or plains fires.  It was flaring.  Gas flaring.  All over the horizon were brilliantly lit gas wells with permanent flames shooting in the air.  On the bluff where the park Visitor’s Center was built, the Texas landscape looked like….well it looked like Kuwait in 1991.  Gas flaring and smoke and blah.

We got to Carlsbad Caverns nice and early to avoid people.  You can get down to the caverns two ways;  take the elevator or take the 1.25 mile hike down the Natural Entrance.  Since our tour was at 9 and the Natural Entrance didn’t open until 8:30, we opted for the elevator ride down, down, down.

The common area of the cavern (food, gift shop, elevators) is touristy and fairly unremarkable.  The rest of the caverns are absolutely amazing and I give it my whole-hearted recommendation for a visit.  We first took the King’s Palace tour; a 90 minute walk on paved trail through some excellent large caverns with a great ranger (Ranger John) from Kentucky.  Then we took the time to circle The Big Room, a massive (try many football fields massive) cavern that had a 1.3 mile loop that satisfied many senses.  Have claustrophobia?  Carlsbad is going to be great for you because the cavern is enormous!  I’m already hassling my wife for a return trip to do two things.  One, I want to take an off-the-beat-path cave tour that includes some ropes, headlamps, and bouldering.  And two, I want to stay for the evening Bat Flight event where hundreds of thousands of bats leave the cave after dusk. 

Upon leaving we had a choice.  We could walk to the elevators and take the quick and easy way up.  Or we could walk up and out of the Natural Entrance; a trail that warned people of potential health risks if they attempted the hike up to the top.  It was about 850 feet of elevation gain in 1.25 miles or so, and my wife and I could not figure out how it was going to kill us.  There was no sun beating down on us and the temperature was around 57 degrees.  It was humid so we were going to sweat but what else was new.  So we started up.  It was a little steep and we got looks of horror from people on their way down the Natural Entrance but we made it within 40 minutes easy, and it really wasn’t that hard.  My glasses fogged up because of the humidity but the trail was paved, not that steeply graded, and had a couple of points that were interesting anyway so we would stop for thirty seconds or so to view the sights, not that a rest was really needed.  Seriously, the ascent up Navajo Loop at Bryce Canyon is a lot harder.

Then it was car time as we drove back through Carlsbad and across New Mexico towards Albuquerque.  The drive sucked.  There is really nothing in central New Mexico except scrub plains and Roswell, which is a lot bigger town than I thought and full of kitschy alien figures.  Yes, Roswell really plays up the story of the UFO.  We avoided the thunderstorms today until we reached Albuquerque and then a small one stalked us for the rest of the trip.  One stop at a Trader Joe’s for some supplies and off to Bernalillo, a northern suburb of Albuquerque and our home for a couple of days. 

Trails hiked:  King’s Palace, The Big Room, up the Natural Entrance. 

Miles hiked:  3.5

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