Monday, September 5, 2011

Day 41: Quick! To The Batcave, Day 1

September 5, 2011 -  Carlsbad Caverns is a place that, until today, I had never heard of.  Bruce was really excited to visit this natural wonder and I was eager to explore another place.  Doing a little bit of research this morning made me even more excited to visit this majestic cave system and I eagerly grabbed my camera as we headed out down the road.

The Drive

After driving through the town of Carlsbad we drove to White's City, a small tourist destination about sixteen miles away.  From here, we would drive seven miles through the Guadalupe Mountains to get to the Carlsbad Caverns Visitor Center.  In all reality, the drive wasn't that bad and we got to see some amazing sights along the way.

The State Parks sign for the Carlsbad Caverns.

Our first stop was the sign, in which Batman and Humberto were quick to get some photo opportunities.

Humberto got himself stuck for a bit.

Batman and Humberto posing on top of the sign; which clearly stated "No Climbing" on the back.

Oh, the shenanigans of those two.

Continuing on our way, we passed deeper into the Guadalupe Mountains.  This mountain range is located in both New Mexico and Texas and is an impressive site to behold.  Remnants of when this area was an inland ocean; the Guadalupe's include the tallest mountain range in Texas and the iconic El Capitan peak.

The scenery during that part of the drive made for several interesting photo shoots as we went along the winding road towards our main destination.

Yep, this is the desert.

The road to Carlsbad Caverns.

A rock face that contains, I'm sure, a lot of spiders

This cliff probably has snakes living in it.

The Carlsbad Caverns Visitor Center

Unfortunately, the gnome got in the way of a good photograph.

The visitors center is located above the caverns.  In here, you can find a museum, a gift shop, and a small cafeteria.  The visitor center itself looks out over the plains as it sits atop the mountain range.  The view is stunning, but looking at the endless desert of New Mexico wasn't what we came here to do.

Descent Into The Caverns

After looking around the museum and the gift shop, Bruce and I headed out to the Carlsbad Caverns.  The path led to a park ranger who gave us a rundown of the rules while we were in the caves, and then we were on our own.  We headed down the easily marked path towards the Caverns.  It was here, at the natural entrance, that we would descend the switchback path and descend into another world.

The natural entrance; which Bruce called"The Batcave".

Descending into the cave.

Once inside, the temperature immediately drops and it gets very dark.

The caverns were formed when naturally occurring sulfuric acid ate away at the surrounding limestone.  Additionally, some of the formations were caused by dripping water.  Since we are in the desert, the dripping water formations are especially magical.

The Carlsbad Caverns are amazing!  There are more than 110 known limestone caves in the Carlsbad Caverns National Park, but the actual Carlsbad Caverns are the most easily accessible and well-known.  The self-guided tour starts at 750 feet above where it ends, covers one and a quarter miles, and lets you explore a variety of "rooms" with fanciful names; The Iceberg, The Boneyard, The Green Lake Overlook, and The Devil's Spring.

Sadly, these pictures do not do the sights under the surface of the earth any justice.

One of the many natural columns in the caverns.

A formation known as "The Whale's Mouth".

Cave popcorn, as seen above, can be found in most cave systems in Carlsbad.

Not used anymore; these old stairs offer a glimpse into the cavern's past.

The end of the Natural Entrance Self-guided tour ends in what is known as The Big Room.  It is here that visitors can continue their tour and walk around this enormous cavern.  Bruce and I took the opportunity to walk a couple of extra miles and witness the show cave.

The Big Room can easily accommodate six football fields with room to spare.  Additionally, the Big Room is, on average, about 200 feet high and takes an hour and a half to walk around the perimeter.  Some of the most notable natural features are; The Temple of the Sun, The Bottomless Pit, The Painted Grotto, The Rock of Ages, and the Giant Dome.

The combination of stalactites and stalagmites makes a forest in the caverns.

The darkness of the Carlsbad Caverns.

A domed stalagmite in "The Hall of Giants".

Bruce took this amazing picture of one of the features in The Big Room.

Another picture by Bruce; this time, a "melting" column.

After trekking around under the surface of the earth for several hours, Bruce and I ate lunch in The Underground Lunchroom before taking the elevator back to the Visitor Center.  We had a little bit of time to kill before the next part of the tour, so we splurged in the gift shop and stocked up on Carlsbad trinkets.

The Bat Flight Program

At sundown, thousands of bats emerge from the natural cave entrance and hunt for bugs.  They will do this every night until they leave the cave system in the onset of winter and head down to Mexico for the season.  Every night.

Bruce and I took the opportunity to watch them leave the cavern to hunt for food.

In the amphitheatre next to the natural entrance we got our seats and waited for a short amount of time.  Then a ranger came out and introduced the program.  He made sure to educate us on bats, which was both informative and fun to watch and then started talking about the actual bat flight we were about to see.

From the amphitheatre the entire group sat in silence as we watched the bats emerge from the caverns; slowly at first, then more and more in full force.  Afterwards, most of the group left, except for Bruce and I.  We sat there for a long time, enjoying the spectacle of bats flying out of the cave.  We sat until it was almost too dark to find our way back to the truck.

Bruce absolutely loved this.  He was so happy; he found his bats.

Sadly, we weren't allowed to take pictures because of the mechanical noise of the cameras and the use of flash photography could cause havoc with the bat's guidance system.  However, I will always remember what it looked like for as long as I live; the experience was that memorable.  I am sure Bruce will too.

Headed Back

We headed back to base camp and made plans for the morning over a campfire and roasted marshmallows.  In the early morning we would take another tour of the caverns, but one that not many people actually got to see.  We would descend lower into the caves in the morning and explore the deeper depths of Carlsbad Caverns.


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