Beneath the Guadalupe Mountains

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is situated next-door, or more accurately, underneath Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Despite their close proximity, Guadalupe Mountains National Park calls Texas home whereas the Caverns claim New Mexico as their home.

After knocking out laundry in the morning, we headed to the visitors’ center to begin our afternoon in the cave. The short walk from the visitors’ center leads you down a paved path and through the park’s amphitheater which is used for watching the thousands upon thousands of Carlsbad’s winged residents leave their home each night. It’s supposed to be amazing to see. Unfortunately for us, February is one of the months the bats are migrating in Mexico, so we completely missed out. Can’t have it all.

Once past the amphitheater, the path begins its long dissent into the cave below. The trail snakes its way back and forth and eventually doubles back underneath the main entrance. It’s a long way down. Over 750 feet to be exact. Along the way there are plenty of formations that you would expect to see in a cave with cool names like “Rock of Ages” and “Crystal Springs Dome”. What surprised me the most was how quickly the cave felt big. The rooms just felt spacious. Even Wyatt, who’s not a big fan of caves, began to feel at ease once we got further down.

As interesting as the 1.25 mile trail to cave floor was, it paled in comparison our second leg. The Big Room Trail was awesome. The formations became much more intricate and fanciful and had appropriate names like “Fairlyland”, “Lion’s Tail”  and “Temple of the Sun”. The Big Room lives up to its name, it’s so big six football fields could fit underneath its roof. It’s the largest subterranean room in the world. Within the formations we could spot things that looked like cavemen, mummies and all kinds of crazy creatures.  Nikki and Maya spotted lots of sparkly crystal formations and geode-like structures in the walls too.

Towards the back portion of the trail was the “Bottomless Pit”, a wide opening that angles back giving the 140+ foot, dark hole the appearance of being bottomless. It made us wonder what it would have been like to have been one of the first people to have explored the cave. We had the luxury of paved paths and dramatic lighting, but in the early 1900’s these caverns were “discovered” by a 16 year old kid by lantern. My guess is it started with some kind of dare.

The trail is a big loop and at the start/ending is a snack bar (which at one point was a full blown restaurant) and gift shop. Just off to the side of the room are elevators. Instead of taking the steep hike back up, we opted for the elevators instead. I’d say we made the right call.

After our day of caving, we drove a few miles down the road and into the town of Carlsbad. Nikki described it best as being a “dude’s town” because everywhere you looked it was full of guys or businesses catering to guys who worked in the town’s oil and gas industry. It definitely had an industrial vibe to it.

We ended up a place called Mariscos El Buchón, which was of all things, a ceviche restaurant in what looked like a recently converted garage. We were one of the few English speaking people in the place but it had gotten good reviews on Yelp, so why not. It ended up being great. Three of us ended up getting some version their ceviches and almost all of it had shrimp and/or octopus. The octopus was tender and it all tasted fresh and light. It was such an unexpected experience.

Fortunately while we were waiting on the check, Nikki checked the forecast. The winds had continued to be fairly strong and we knew colder temperatures were expected. What we weren’t expecting was light snow and ice arriving in the early hours of the morning. I’ve mentioned before how I’m not a fan of moving at night, but I’m even less of a fan of pulling-out on icy roads. So we decided as soon as we got back to our campsite, we’d pack-up and head down the road. Pretty sure we made record time breaking things down and hooking-up the trailer. It was a total group effort. The funny thing was, there was another camper a couple of spots down from us who wasn’t there when we left for the caves in the morning. We wondered if they heard us pulling out or if they looked out the window to see us hightailing out of there in the middle of the night?

We managed to get about about two hours down the road and got into our next campground without hitch. It was cold the next morning, but we completely avoided the light snow and ice we would have hit if we had elected to have stayed in Carlsbad. Onward!