Saturday, March 17, 2018

Carlsbad Caverns National Park {New Mexico}


We started our Road Trip 2018 yesterday.  We spent some time at our hotel this morning making some basic plans for the next few days.  We found a bed and breakfast in Tuscon to stay the next two nights.  We checked out a little later than planned but we made it to Carlsbad around lunch time.  Stuart and I have been to Carlsbad Caverns once before we had kids.  The kids have been to Inner Space Cavern so they had an idea of what to expect in a cavern but that was nothing like Carlsbad Caverns.  Carlsbad Caverns was discovered by young Jim White in 1898.  It is made up of 300 limestone caves.  The Carlsbad Cave National Monument was established in 1923 by President Coolidge and it became a National Park in 1930.


We plan to go to four National Parks during our trip so to save money we bought an America the Beautiful annual pass.  This pass gets all four of us into any National Park all year long for one price of $80.  It will more than pay for itself on this trip alone but hopefully we will find another one or two uses for it in the next year.

Nicholas and Stuart recognized these special trash cans from their visit to Big Bend National Park last summer.  They are bear-proof trash cans.  You can't just open them up.  You have to slide your hand under the lip and push up a lever.  Bears are strong but they just paw at things and can't maneuver intricate handles like this.  It was neat to see such a creative solution.


Once we were in the park there was still a long drive though the mountains and valleys of the Chihuahuan desert.  The rock structures were amazing to look at.



Nicholas is excited to go to the Southwest to see insects, amphibians, and reptiles that only live here.  One of the interesting things he wants to see is a Regal Horned Lizard.  He thinks it is cool that this lizard shoots blood out of its eye when it feel threatened.  Rachel had kept a little plastic bottle that the hotel shampoo was in.  The kids decided that they would use it to "capture" the eye blood if they ran across one of these lizards.  Yes, they want a souvenir bottle of lizard eye blood.  We are that weird homeschool family!


There were some interesting plants at the entrance to the cavern.  Being in the desert, they were all cacti.  This one looked kind of scary.


I love the wide spray of this one's leaves.  It looks beautiful but if you look closely, each leaf is covered with little spikes.  The desert is a harsh environment so the plant life must be harsh as well.


At least some of the cacti balance their pokey-ness with some beautiful flowers as well.


There are two ways to access the cavern from the Visitor Center.  You can walk or ride the elevator.  Most people choose to walk down and then ride the elevator back up.  However, it was very crowded with people wanting to walk down and the elevator line was short.  We couldn't spend all day here because there was still a several hour drive ahead of us to get to Tucson so we opted to take the elevator down and then walk back out.  At the elevator we got a short presentation from staff about the caverns and what to do and not to do.  Here they have a piece of cavern formation that they encourage everyone to touch to "get it out of their system" because you aren't allowed to touch any of the actual cavern formations once you are down there.


The elevator had only two floors.  The Visitor Center and the Cavern.


The cavern is 750 floors under the Visitor Center and it was a straight trip down.  We've never watched the numbers on an elevator floor display count so high!


The structures in the cavern were amazing to see.  This one looked like a big ice cream cone that had melted into a mess.




There was a spot on the path where the cavern ceiling was so low that we had to duck to continue forward.


Rachel found a neat "window" between two cavern rooms.  She pointed out that it looked like a heart.  Do you see it?


The Big Room is a part of the cavern that is about 4,000 feet wide and 255 feet high at its highest point.  Just know that my pictures can't possibly do justice to the majestic sights we saw.  Cell phone camera quality with very low light doesn't give me much to work with but at least you can see these cute people in the picture 



Some very sharp stalagtites hung over our heads.  I would hate for one of these to break loose and slash down on us!


The cavern is huge!  See the graphic of the plane in the picture below.  That is a 747 jetliner added to give scale to the size of the caverns that we were exploring.


This stalagmite was right along the edge of the path.  It was unique because it had started growing around the metal handrail.



There was a lot of these formations in the cavern.  They are called "popcorn".  Take a look at the brighter area where Nicholas was shining his flashlight and you can see that they do kind of look like popcorn.




The formation hanging from the ceiling in the picture below is called a Lion's Tail.  You can see the long tail and the "furry" tip.


This picture below was in the Hall of Giants where you will find the Giant Dome that stands 62 feet tall.  Unfortunately in the dim room, I could not see on my phone that I didn't have the entire formation in the picture frame.  But trust me, it was impressive.


There were amazing sights to see all around us and the kids were great about taking their time and noticing unique structures. 


These overhead formations are called draperies.  They are formed as calcite-rich water clings to overhanging walls by surface tension.  They are kind of wavy or curly looking.



Here is a really tall stalagmite growing up toward the ceiling.


The formations are beautiful.  Though I disliked the low light from a photography standpoint, it did allow for some great looking shadows and helped us see the depths of the formations more clearly.



The walk out of the cavern was longer and harder than we expected.  It climbs 800 feet in a 1.2 mile hike to the surface.  It was about an hour hike and it was steep up hill walking the entire time. Here is a picture of when we were nearing the exit.


Looking back down into the cavern from the surface was a neat sight.  I wish we could have spent a little more time there but it was time to hit the road again.


There are a lot of things to do at the Visitor Center.  There is a movie, lots of exhibits, a bookstore, gift shop, and even a cafeteria.  There is also this photo op for two cute little bats.


Earlier while we were driving in towards the Visitor Center, Nicholas had noticed a neat spot he wanted to stop and explore on the way out.  We found the spot along the wide and winding road.  We got out and I immediately started looking around at the interesting plant life.  At some point I looked up and found that Nicholas was scaling the side of a mountain!  See the little blue guy?


It looked kind of scary from where I had been standing but I walked closer and it didn't look quite as bad.  However, he didn't go much further up than this.


Of course, Rachel had to climb a little too but she found a nice spot down low and just settled in to enjoy the view.


What had really caught our eye as we had passed this spot was this cool looking cave.


It was neat but didn't go nearly as deep as we had hoped so there wasn't much to explore.


Rachel was fascinated with this little cactus that she found.


Look at those spines!  I've never seen anything like it!


Carlsbad Caverns National Park is an amazing place to see and it was a great introduction to the different environment we would find in the desert climate.

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