Tag Archives: New Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns

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Location: New Mexico

Established: May 14, 1930

Size: 46,766 acres

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“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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“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.”

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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.

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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.”

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

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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.

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

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

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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!

Petroglyph National Monument

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While much of our trip was planned out down to the smallest detail, we have had some impromptu adventures along the way.

There is something quite fun and exciting about veering off the beaten path for an unexpected adventure.

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On our way from Mesa Verde National Park to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico we passed a sign for Petroglyph National Monument. Stumbling across this national monument was a wonderful case of serendipity.

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We veered off our planned route and found ourselves at the Visitor’s Center, unsure of what we would find at this national monument. I only knew that I wanted to see (and have the kids see) some ancient petroglyphs in person after having studied them in art and history class.

Petroglyphs are rock carvings. Unlike petrographs which are drawn on or painted on rock faces, petroglyphs are images that are scratched into a dark faced rock revealing the lighter stone underneath.

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Petroglyphs have been found on every continent except Antarctica and are associated with prehistoric people.

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Located just outside Albuquerque, New Mexico, Petroglyph National Monument is home to one of the largest collections of petroglyphs in North America. 25,000 petroglyph images can be found scratched into the dark boulders of the park.

At the visitor’s center we were given a map of the different trails in the area where we could view these ancient works of art.

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At the ranger’s suggestion we opted to head to Boca Negra Canyon. She explained it was the closest, easiest to access, and most recommended for kids.

As we were leaving Ozzie took a seat outside waiting for the rest of the family to emerge from the visitor’s center when Molly whispered urgently,

“Ozzie, don’t move!”

To which Ozzie responded by jumping up with a panicked yell, “Why?!”

Across is foot slithered a snake.

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Unsure of whether it was venomous or not, Ozzie jumped in the air, landing back on top of the snake.

We finally got him away from the little fellow. I think Ozzie’s and the snake’s hearts were racing a bit after that encounter. A local who was passing by informed us that it was perfectly safe and not to worry.

Whew!

We then drove a couple miles away to the Boca Negra Canyon to hike and view the petroglyphs up close.

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It was thrilling seeing these ancient images in person.

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Carved into dark, Basalt boulders that were created by ancient volcanos, the hike became an exciting game of “I Spy” as we searched for these ancient, primitive images dating 700-3000 years old.

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Some of the images were easy to interpret while other shapes and designs were more abstract.

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It was fun guessing at what they could be and what they might mean, as many were grouped together as if meant to tell a story.

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The meanings behind these petroglyphs are for the most part unknown but it is fun to guess at what stories they tell.

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The petroglyphs we encountered included serpents, birds, horses, humans, masks, four pointed stars, spirals and even hand prints.

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As we hiked we were also treated to some real animals in the form of long eared jack rabbits. You could tell we had traveled through South Dakota when Tyler asked,

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“But where are their antlers?”

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We had to break his heart and explain that jackalopes weren’t real. 🙂

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It was a fun, unexpected stop on a long travel day. Sometimes the best memories come from the unexpected, unplanned moments of life.

Next Stop: Roswell, New Mexico

Four Corners

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Toby ended a busy day by walking ALL THE WAY from Arizona to Colorado…Show Off!

 

Each of the kids began this seven week road trip with a plan as to what type of souvenirs they would be collecting. They each had a plan to collect something from the stops along the way with the money they had saved.

Grace decided to buy patches from each national park to sew onto her favorite backpack, making it a special reminder of all the places she has been.

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Rusty decided to collect key chains that he could attach to his backpack.

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Molly opted to collect postcards from each place we visited. She chose postcards because they were inexpensive but also a great visual reminder of all she has done.

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Toby and I were collecting magnets from each stop to add to our magnet collection, as well as starting a sweet bumper sticker collection on the back of the Gnome mobile to highlight where it has been.

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And we’ve been covering the ceiling of our bus with flyers and ticket stubs.

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Ozzie decided to collect maps from every state we traveled through and every park we visited. This turned out to be the cheapest souvenir of all since free state maps are available at rest stops and National Parks give out park maps to guests.

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His choice to collect maps wasn’t surprising. Ozzie LOVES geography. He loves reading maps and can spend hours playing around on Google Maps. An Atlas is his idea of good bedtime reading.

Being such a fan of geography and maps, you can only imagine the excitement he was feeling as we drove to Four Corners monument…the only place in the United States where you can stand in four states all at once.

I remember thinking Four Corners was such a cool place as a kid, and have a picture much like this one that we recreated, with a hand in two states and feet in two states.

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The drive to Four Corners took us down poorly maintained back roads for a 40 minute drive off the highway.

Owned by the Navajo Nation this is a privately owned monument located on Navajo land in the middle of nowhere.

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The cost to enter is $5.00/person, which is a bit steep when you consider all that is there is a granite disk marking the boundary where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona meet,

but in the end we felt the fee was worth the experience.

Here is a little info about this unique place:

“The Four Corners Monument marks the quadripoint in the Southwestern United States where the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah meet. It is the only point in the United States shared by four states, leading to this area’s being called the Four Corners region. The monument also marks the boundary between two semi-autonomous Native American governments, the Navajo Nation, which maintains the monument as a tourist attraction, and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Reservation.

The origins of the state boundaries marked by the monument occurred just prior to, and during, the American Civil War, when the United States Congress acted to form governments in the area to combat the spread of slavery to the region. When the early territories were formed, their boundaries were designated along meridian and parallel lines. Beginning in the 1860s, these lines were surveyed and marked. These early surveys included some errors, but even so, the markers placed became the legal boundaries, superseding the written descriptions of geographical meridians and parallels. This includes the Four Corners Monument, which has been legally established as the corner of the four states.

The monument where “visitors can simultaneously straddle the territory of four states” is maintained as a tourist attraction by the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation Department. Unlike many other attractions based on what are primarily political boundaries, such as the Berlin Wall, Four Corners Monument is an example of a political boundary that is a tourist destination in its own right. The monument consists of a granite disk embedded with a smaller bronze disk around the point, surrounded by smaller, appropriately located state seals and flags representing both the states and tribal nations of the area. Circling the point, starting from north, the disk reads with two words in each state “Here meet in freedom under God four states”. Around the monument, local Navajo and Ute artisans sell souvenirs and food. An admission fee is required to view and photograph the monument. The monument is a popular tourist attraction despite its remote and isolated location. As early as 1908, people traveled long distances to take pictures of family and friends at the monument in Twister-like poses, sitting on the disk, in a circle of friends or family around the disk, or for couples to kiss directly over the disk.” -Wikipedia

We arrived and were pleased to discover we were one of a few tourists there. This meant more of an opportunity to take multiple pictures, an opportunity that wouldn’t have been available had there been a line waiting. During busier times they ask that you limit the number of photos you take to three.

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Ozzie was beside himself, gleefully calling out, “I’ll see you in a little bit, Mom. I’m headed to New Mexico!”

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Tyler loved jumping the border lines with Ozzie, shouting, “Now I’m in Utah. Now I’m in Arizona. Now I’m in Colorado!”

We waited for our turn to take pictures.

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The actual monument was quite pretty, surrounded by the flags of each state and local tribal nations, with a granite disk reading, “Here meet in freedom under God four states.”

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We started by getting a group picture with the kids all picking the state they wanted to stand in. Grace opted to stand in the center where the four states meet.

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It was crazy to say,

“At this moment all my kids are scattered across four states!” 🙂

Then some of the kids requested pictures alone on the monument.

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We ended our visit with a stroll around the booths that encircle the monument where Native Americans were selling their wares.

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We all enjoyed watching one artisan demonstrate how he chips away stone using deer antlers to create arrowheads.

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The girls loved all the turquoise jewelry and each bought a pair of earrings.

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There isn’t a lot to see or do at this stop. It is a 15 minute- 60 minute stop, but it is very cool.

It is one of those “Bucket List” stops. For where else can you go and say to your children,

“Kids, its time to go! Tyler, get out of Utah. Molly, it’s time to leave Arizona. Rusty, you need to head out of Colorado. Meet me in New Mexico at the bus. It’s time to leave.”

Very Cool!

Next Stop: Mesa Verde