Tag Archives: cave

Luray Caverns

Standard

On Friday we checked out of our beautiful campground at 2:00 pm, after enjoy a morning of fun. Staying until Saturday (when we needed to pick up the big kids from Trek) wasn’t an option at this particular Jellystone because during their busy summer months they require campers to either check out before the weekend or pay for the entire weekend, rather than check out on Saturday. We chose to enjoy the campground in the morning and check out after lunch.

I had already booked an inexpensive motel for the night. We had a few hours to kill before we could check in so we decided to drive over to Luray Caverns (5 minutes away) to spend the afternoon. Our family loves cave tours and we have visited dozens of caves across the country, but Luray is one of my very favorites.

I hadn’t been there in over 10 years. Last time we visited Luray my big kids were small tykes, and Tyler and Ozzie weren’t even on our radar much less part of our family, so it seemed fitting to recreate this experience with my two youngest.

IMG_7532 (2)

We drove over, purchased tickets, and got in line to walk down into the cave.

IMG_7536

As soon as we began the descent I knew we had made a good choice. The temperature quickly cooled from a stifling 92 degrees to a blissful 54 degrees. Oh, it felt so good!

IMG_7545 (2)

And the views couldn’t be beat!!

IMG_7572 (2)

In 1880, the Smithsonian Institute reported…

“…it is safe to say that there is probably no other cave in the world more completely and profusely decorated with stalactite and stalagmite ornamentation than that of Luray.”

We could see why.

IMG_7569 (2)

The tour of the caverns was a 1.25-mile walking tour.

IMG_7576 (2)

The highlights included amazing stalactite and stalagmite formations.

As we walked the boys were on the look out for some of our favorite “food themed” cave formations like:

Cave Bacon

IMG_7571 (2)

Cave Popcorn

IMG_7574

and even Cave Eggs…sunny side up!

IMG_7599

I particularly enjoyed how wet the cave was. It makes for a prettier cave. The pools of water and small lakes were beautiful!

IMG_7563 (2)

There was a spring of water called Dream Lake that had an almost mirror-like appearance. Stalactites were reflected in the water making them appear to be stalagmites. This illusion is often so convincing that people are unable to see the real bottom. It looks quite deep, as the stalactites are higher above the water, but at its deepest point the water is only around 20 inches deep.

IMG_7555 (2)

The Wishing Well was a green pond with coins three feet deep at the bottom. Like Dream Lake, the well also gave an illusion, however it was reversed. This pond looked three to four feet deep but at its deepest point it is actually six to seven feet deep. Here visitors were allowed to toss in coins and make a wish, and then once a year all the coins are collected and the proceeds are donated to the year’s chosen charity.

IMG_7595

One of the most amazing parts of the tour was the Stalacpipe Organ, the world’s largest musical instrument, as featured on Ripley’s Believe it or Not. In the area known as the Cathedral, there are some 3 ½ acres covered by stalactites that produce a series of melodic tones when tapped with rubber-tipped mallets. The discovery and resulting electronic organ was conceived and built by a visitor to the caverns, Mr. Leland W. Sprinkle. Mr. Sprinkle also happened to be a mathematician and electronics scientist from the Pentagon. It took 36 years of design and experimentation to bring the organ to life.

IMG_7538 (2)IMG_7587 (2)IMG_7589 (2)IMG_7590 (2)

The effect was amazing!

Both boys loved the experience and had a blast on our tour of Luray Caverns.

Following our tour we walked next door to see the Car and Carriage Museum (which was included in our admission ticket to the caverns.)

IMG_7529 (2)

This museum walked us through the history of vehicles from horse drawn carriages and wagons, to early automobiles and beyond. There were some really amazing vintage vehicles in the museum.

IMG_7605 (2)IMG_7617 (2)IMG_7620 (2)IMG_7624 (2)IMG_7626 (2)

Ozzie was in heaven!

When we had our fill of fun at Luray Caverns we drove to our hotel for the night…The Twi-lite motel in Front Royal, Virginia.

IMG_7636 (2).JPG

Oh my goodness, was it a blast from the past! We pulled in and I felt like I had been transported back to my childhood. It looked just like the many roadside hotels we would stay at when we traveled cross country.

IMG_7635 (2)

The boys were enamored with the set up. They loved the fact you parked right in front of your front door and walked in. The room was charming and very clean.

IMG_7639 (2)

When we walked in Tyler saw the towels on the bed that had been folded like swans and he exclaimed, “It is just like Disney World!”

IMG_7630 (2)

The rest of our evening was spent swimming and enjoying the pool before everyone fell into a deep sleep. It had been a busy, fun-packed day!

IMG_7645 (2)IMG_7646 (2)IMG_7647 (2)

Carlsbad Caverns

Standard

img_6197-2

Location: New Mexico

Established: May 14, 1930

Size: 46,766 acres

carlsbad

“The Chihuahuan Desert, studded with spiky plants and lizards, offers little hint that what Will Rogers called the “Grand Canyon with a roof on it” waits underground. Yet, at this desert’s northern reaches, underneath the Guadalupe Mountains, lies one of the deepest, largest, and most ornate caverns ever found.

Water molded this underworld four to six million years ago. Some 250 million years ago, the region lay underneath the inland arm of an ancient sea. Near the shore grew a limestone reef. By the time the sea withdrew, the reef stood hundreds of feet high, later to be buried under thousands of feet of soil. Some 15 to 20 million years ago, the ground uplifted. Naturally occurring sulfuric acid seeped into cracks in the limestone, gradually enlarging them to form a honeycomb of chambers. Millions of years passed before the cave decoration began. Then, drop by drop, limestone-laden moisture built an extraordinary variety of glistening formations—some six stories tall; others tiny and delicate.

Cave scientists have explored more than 30 miles (48 kilometers) of passageways of the main cavern of Carlsbad, and investigation continues. Visitors may tour three of these miles (five kilometers) on a paved trail. Slaughter Canyon Cave provides the hardy an opportunity to play caver, albeit with a guide. The park has more than a hundred other caves open primarily to specialists.

Some visitors think the park’s most spectacular sight is the one seen at the cave’s mouth. More than a quarter million Brazilian (Mexican) free-tailed bats summer in a section of the cave, and around sunset they spiral up from the entrance to hunt for insects. The nightly exodus led to the discovery of the cave in modern times. Around the turn of the 20th century, miners began to excavate bat guano—a potent fertilizer—for shipment to the citrus groves of southern California. One of the guano miners, James Larkin White, became the first to explore and publicize the caverns beyond Bat Cave.”

This stop was one that we were all excited for.

We are “cave people,” and I mean that in the kindest way possible…not that we are Neanderthals in our actions and manners…

well, perhaps a little bit,

but what I really mean is that our family loves touring caves.

As a family we have toured a dozen caves and never turn down the chance to explore another underground labyrinth.

Last year we had the opportunity to tour Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, the longest cave system in the world.

When we were planning our cross country trip and realized how close we would be traveling to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico, we knew we needed to add this stop to our itinerary. This stop had two added benefits:

#1: We were within three hours of my brother, Travis, who lives in Midland, Texas. So we planned to combine our visit to Carlsbad with a visit with Travis.

#2: It was free to visit and take Travis with us on a cave tour with our America the Beautiful pass.

We arrived in the area on Sunday night. The plan was to meet up with Travis on Monday morning, but we drove over to Carlsbad Caverns the night before so we could catch their evening bat show. This show is a must-see event if you visit the caverns. This show that you watch at the mouth of the cave is just as spectacular as anything you will see below ground.

We arrived at 6:15 and found a seat in the open amphitheater that faces the bat cave entrance.

carlsbad-caverns-ampitheater

There we were instructed to turn off all electronics; including phones and cameras. No photography was allowed at the bat show as the lights put out by our cameras and phones can disorientate the bats in their flight and cause them to crash into vegetation.

We were also asked to sit still and quietly as we waited for the bats to emerge.

As we waited, a ranger spoke about the bats at Carlsbad Cavern, in the most interesting ranger led program we have attended on our trip. We learned that the colony of bats found at Carlsbad Caverns are Brazilian free-tail bats.

This colony is composed of 1/2 million bats, which was an incredible site to see when they began emerging from the cave, but we discovered that today’s colony of bats was a small percentage of the colony that was found there in the 1930’s. That same colony used to be  8-9 million strong.

The primary cause of the shrinking of the colony can be traced to the use of DDT in the 1970s.

Carlsbad Caverns is considered a maternity roost where the colony comes to give birth and raise pups each spring. These bats typically give birth to one pup every June or July. The pups are raised in the cave until the are old enough to join their mothers on their nightly flights beginning in September.

In October they leave Carlsbad Caverns for the winter, choosing to migrate to Mexico each year rather than hibernate like some other bat colonies do.

Around 6:45 pm the bats began to fly, beginning their flight pattern by flying in a vortex, creating a tornado of bats as they worked their way from the bottom of the cave up to the entrance.

The ranger explained that this movement is much like L.A. traffic and by flying in a spinning vortex bats are able to merge into “traffic” allowing 500,000 bats to exit the cave in a orderly way.

It was an unreal site to see 1/2 million bats leave the cave in search of the 4,500 pounds of insects the colony eats nightly in the 20 mile radius around the cave.

As the crowd sat in complete silence under a wave of passing bats, the experience was almost spiritual.

(Images taken from NPS website)

bats2

bat-show

I don’t know when I have experienced something so affecting.

The only sound was the whoosh of air as they flew above our heads and moved in a dance of dips and spins.

It was one of the neatest experiences of my life.

The next morning we returned to Carlsbad Caverns to meet my brother, Travis, for the day. Since he moved to Texas, visits with Travis are a rare and treasured treat. We decided to make this his belated birthday celebration since last week was his birthday.

He arrived and the kids ran over to greet him.

img_6202-2

Toby picked up our tickets for the tour and we began our visit in the visitor’s center, where we were able to learn a bit more about the formation of the cave, the history of the cave, and the bats that occupy the cave.

img_6208-2img_6210-2img_6212-2img_6220-2

From there we moved to the elevators that would take us deep within the Caverns.

There were multiple cavern tours available from self-guided, walk through tours  to more adventurous, ranger-led tours.

We opted for the Big Room tour:

“The basic tour through Carlsbad Cavern is the Big Room route, a one-mile, self-guided underground walk around the perimeter of the largest room in the cave, the Big Room. Taking approximately 1.5 hours, this circular route passes many large and famous features including Bottomless Pit, Giant Dome, Rock of Ages, and Painted Grotto. Highly decorated and immense, the Big Room should be seen by all park visitors.

Access to the Big Room is provided by elevators located in the visitor center.

Just how BIG is the Big Room? At about 8.2 acres in size, roughly 6.2 football fields would fit into the Big Room!

It is definitely well-named as this is the largest single cave chamber by volume in North America.

Other caves might be longer or deeper, but few can live up to the grandeur of the Big Room of Carlsbad Caverns”

img_6361-2img_6306-2img_6264-2

We took the elevator down 750 feet into the heart of the cavern,  which was equivalent to over 70 stories of descent and took about a minute to go down. Rangers operate them with a pre-orientation.

img_6238-2

The first thing that greeted us below was the cafe and store carved under the rocks. It was pretty amazing how they were able to carve out a small underground center here.

img_6221-2

The other thing we noticed upon stepping out of the elevator was the temperature, which remains a steady 56 degrees year round inside the cave.

img_6332-2

The trail around the Big Room was incredible. Pictures didn’t prepare us for the vast size and incredible beauty.

img_6258-2

We have toured many caves, with some prettier than others, but I have never visited a cave more beautiful than Carlsbad Caverns.

img_6236-2

I’ve often said there’s no comparison with pictures and seeing things in person. In this instance, our pictures don’t even begin to capture the beauty and size of these formations.

img_6294-2

img_6329-2

These decorations were all spectacular sights. We saw the Stalagmites growing from the ground and created by water falling on the floor.

img_6273-2

img_6267-2

Water dripping slowly from the ceiling created the Stalactites hanging down. The thinner, hollow ones are called Soda Straws.

img_6386-2

img_6346-2

When stalagmites and stalactites grow and meet together, they create these massive formations called Columns.

img_6282-2

Sometimes, water gathers in the cave and form Cave Pools. This one was clear and made for some wonderful reflections.

img_6334-2

Their imagination ran wild picturing what some of the formations looked like. Some actually had names like this one called Lion’s Tail.

img_6275-2

It was an amazing experience and it was fun to be able to share it with Travis.

img_6278-2img_6289-2

After our 1.5 hour walk around the Big Room we stopped at the underground cafeteria for Travis’ birthday lunch.

img_6226-2

Where else in the world can you say you had your birthday lunch 750 feet below ground.

img_6394-2

“The Underground Lunchroom came into existence in 1928, two years before the cave became a national park. At that time there was a desperate need for food and drink for tourists who were exhausted by the six hours walk required to get in and out of the cavern’s Big Room. The hike had such a reputation for making visitors hungry that the last few hundred yards were known as ”appetite hill.”

img_6406-2

The Underground Lunchroom serves small meals such as sandwiches, salads, yogurt, parfaits, and other food that does not involve cooking in the caverns, so as to protect the delicate cave environment, although in the early years of its operation there were no prohibition on cooking. Visitors can still  eat at a personal lantern lit table.

img_6396-2

One of the most popular activities for visitors is to write and send postcards from underground. There is a mailbox in the caverns, and you can stamp your postcard “Mailed from 750 feet below ground.”

img_6399-2

We had a few postcards to mail out and sent them from this underground post office.

img_6403-2

Then we took the elevators up to the surface where we headed back to the bus to give Travis a tour of our home on wheels.

img_6415-2

There we gave him his birthday gift: a Carlsbad Caverns t-shirt and hat to remember his birthday visit to the caverns.

img_6419-2

Travis also gave Tyler his birthday gift: a really cool mega squirt gun, that Tyler was thrilled with!

img_6422-2

All too soon it was time to say our goodbyes. It wasn’t a lot of time, but we were thrilled to carve out some special one on one time with my Texan brother. It was a visit we will never forget!