Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

2012 Apr 18

We spent a couple of days at White's City RV Park, which is the closet one to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. We might have stayed longer, but the RV park was closing on Monday and Tuesday for repaving. From our location in the park we had an amazing view of the sunrise, as well as a star filled sky at night. We had full hookups, but the electricity was only available at 50 amps. Good thing we had bought the adapter back in Arkansas. We had been warned that the area was "touristy", but it wasn't too bad. We explored some of the area around the park and were constantly surprised by the openness of the space as well as the people.

I bought a tee shirt that I thought was rather striking. It's black, with a picture of several Native American leaders on it, with the caption, "HOMELAND SECURITY  since 1492".

On the way up the seven mile road into the Park, we stopped at a pull out to admire the view and read some information. There was another couple watching something a distance up the hillside with binoculars. When I got near theses folks, the husband, wearing a Boston sweatshirt, said rather excitedly, "There are at least ten mountain goats up there!" and described where they originally saw them and the path they took and where they had lost sight of the goats near some large trees. Soon these people were off, and I went to get our binoculars. Raymond and I spent several minutes scouring the hillside, but eventually found the herd. These were no mountain goats! They were big horn sheep! We watched through our binoculars as a baby nursed from its mom, as mom stood patiently on the hillside. We managed to spot at least nine. What a wonderful surprise that was!  As we continued along the uphill road with its many switchbacks, we stopped at each pull out we saw, for a different vista. Raymond and I had similar fantasies involving native people, or cowboys running from the law at each switchback. We hadn't even gotten as far as the Caverns yet and we were already high on the nature vistas and our own imaginations.

Can you spot the bighorn sheep?

We had read about some of the tours available at Carlsbad Caverns NP and Raymond really wanted to sign up for one of the Ranger led tours that were described as, " four hours climbing on rocks, on your knees and belly; plan to get dirty", luckily these are only offered on weekends and we were there on Monday. We had been warned by a Facebook RVer to take the elevator down the 750 feet to the caverns, which we did. And, Janice, we are grateful for your guidance! as we toured the Big Room of CCNP, we ran into those same folks who had shown us the sheep. They didn't have anyone to advise them and had walked the 40% grade down into the cavern from the outdoor entrance. They were exhausted before the even got to the cavern! They looked to be about our age and reported that it had taken them 90 minutes to walk down into the caverns. We thanked them for pointing out the wildlife and reported our observations. 

Doesn't this remind you of ice?

JM in Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Raymond in Carlsbad Caverns National Park

A pool in the lower portion of the "Big Room"

Raymond and I opted for the self guided tour of the Big Room, using what the Ranger jokingly referred to as, "the Ranger in a box", a handheld device similar to those used in museums, where you punch in the exhibit number to hear a prerecorded explanation of whatever object you are viewing. I really like these kinds of things, I think because I retain more information if I hear and read about what I am seeing. According to the Ranger we spoke with, the self guided tour usually lasts from 90-120 minutes. 

We happened to arrive at the same time as several bus loads of Japanese visitors. Since they appeared to be on a tight schedule, we dropped back and let them go on ahead of us.   Raymond and I are the kind of people who take our time at exhibits and such. We like to be sure not to miss anything. And in the Big Room of CCNP, that means always looking, up, down, in front, and behind you. There is so much to marvel at! We ended up spending 2.5 hours.

Looking down, over the rail into the depths below...

Raymond in a small portion of the "Big Room"

Formations (decorations) on the cavern wall

"Lion's Tail", my personal favorite.

I spent an inordinate amount of time saying, "W O W"!  Seriously. Words seemed inadequate to describe the enormity of the wonders we were seeing. Some of it seemed otherworldly. And at no time did I forget the teenager who came upon the caverns back in 1898 as he worked mending fences. 

James Larkin White was 16 years old, working on a ranch when his curiosity about the number of bats he saw leaving the caves made him decide to explore. As we walked along a lighted, paved path, lined with handrails, I continually thought about this boy and his first visit into the cave with a kerosene lantern.  As he says in his book, "Jim White's Own Story: The Discovery and History of Carlsbad Caverns", "I had roamed this part of the country ever since I'd landed in New Mexico, and long before I'd noticed the opening, therefore, I, like other rangemen, knew of its existence. And, like them, I also had felt no urge to see what was hiding in the darkness of that great hole." He goes on to explain, "That is, until this particular day. I had sat for perhaps an hour watching bats fly out. I couldn't estimate the number, but I knew that it must run into millions.The more I thought of it the more I realized that any hole in the ground which could house such a gigantic army of bats must be a whale of a cave." After telling of crawling to the edge and looking down, without being able to spot the bottom, he says, "I shall never forget the feeling of awe it gave me."

If I had been in Mr. White's shoes, I am sure I would have felt that same awe. I did feel it as we walked through the cavern, looking at the "Giant Stalagmites", the "Frozen Waterfall", the "Jumping Off Place", "Fairyland", "Rock of Ages", and "Dome Room", all names given to the formations, or decorations, as they are called, by Jim White when he first explored the caverns. But, the fact is, that I do not think I would have had his adventurer's spirit. Nor would I have had the vision and persistence he showed over the years, as he tried to share this wonder with the world.

Still, I am grateful for his sense of wonder, and for his dogged sense of purpose. Without his desire to share this marvelous discovery perhaps it wouldn't be a National Park today. Throughout a twenty year period, he tried again and again to stir up interest in the underground wonder he had come upon. Yet, few were interested and even fewer took the time to actually make the journey and see for themselves the enormity and beauty of these caverns. Still Jim White, (and his wife) persisted. That persistence allows us to share this incredible wonder today. 

One of the things I find most appealing is this quote from Mr White, "And I doubt you can understand how happy this modernizing has made me. It's like a pleasant end to a dream. The world is seeing it with all the conveniences and comforts…; Electric lights, trails…running water…and an elevator to carry you up when you get tired of walking." This man spent so much of his time, energy, and money, yet he was grateful and happy for all of it, and especially for the modernizations that came with National Monument status in 1929. Why? Because his dream of sharing this marvel with the world was coming true.

Mr White died in 1946. But he saw his dream come to fruition in his lifetime. How many of us can say that?

I wanted to tell you all about Carlsbad Caverns National Park. But, as I said before, words failed me. I will share a few of our photographs, but they too will fail to show the beauty, magnificence, grandeur, and awe. 

So, what I will tell you is this: Visit. It will be worth it. 

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