This morning I met Ron at Village Inn Restaurant, for one last chat before leaving Las Cruces, and continuing my journey. We talked about all kinds of things, our pasts, our views, etc. I will cherish the time we spent together for many years to come, and I hope it's not too long before I seem him again. Thanks to Cory, Tiffany and Ron, my visit to Las Cruces was a major highlight and favorite of my trip!
|White Sands "Dune Drive"|
From Las Cruces I headed to White Sands National Monument, about 50 miles northeast. "Rising from the heart of the Tularosa Basin is one of the world's great natural wonders - the glistening white sands of New Mexico. Here, dunes have engulfed 275 square miles of desert creating the largest gypsum dune field in the world! The pure gypsum (hydrous calcium sulfate) that forms these unusual dunes originates in the western portion of the monument from an ephemeral lake or playa with a very high mineral content. As the water evaporates (theoretically as much as 80" per year!), the minerals are left behind to form gypsum deposits that eventually are wind-transported to form these white sand dunes." I walked around the museum exhibit at the Visitor Center, and saw the well-done orientation video, before taking "The Dunes Drive," a 16-mile scenic drive, leading from the Visitor Center into the heart of the dunes. A short stroll on a portion of the Dune Life Nature Trail allowed for a more up-close-and-personal experience with the chalk-white mounds of beautiful sand. On a separate note, the park sells sleds, and I saw some people taking advantage of sledding the dunes - how cool!
From White Sands, I drove about 250 miles, heading west on Highway 82 through the Lincoln National Forest to Artesia, south on Highway 285 through Carlsbad to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, "located in the Guadalupe Mountains, a mountain range that runs from west Texas into southeastern New Mexico, primarily a variety of grassland and desert shrubland habitats." I reached the Visitor Center at about 6pm, and the actual caves themselves were closed at 4:00, but I got to stick around for "The Bat Flight." "In a mass exodus at dusk, thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats fly from the cave for a night of feasting on insects." Well, unfortunately this very dry year didn't bring back as many migrant bats as usual, and I was informed the bat flight was is currently pretty hit or miss. Well, over a hundred hopeful people arrived for the spectacle, but unfortunate the bats were a no-show. The actual ranger-led bat-flight presentation itself was really interesting and informative, however, so I didn't feel too bad about it - especially because I can look forward to another bat flight opportunity of epic proportions in Austin, which is home to MILLIONS of bats that fly out nightly from their home under the bridge :)
|A Dark Landscape After June Fires at Carlsbad Caverns|
This evening I pitched my tent on BLM land, off Means Road, just a few miles south of the road to the caverns, in Whites City. The relatively rough road dirt road is open to dispersed camping, however the sagebrush and cacti make for slim pickins'; I found the ground right next to my car on the shoulder of the road was the best. Of course my first attempt at setting up the tent was aborted, as I spotted a wildfire maybe only a half-mile away! I moved back down the road toward the highway, where I felt a bit safer next to the main road, with the fire out of sight.
Saturday, August 6th
This morning I work up early, got to the visitor center when they opened at 8am, and lucked out with an available ticket for the 10am guided tour through Slaughter Canyon Cave, a well-decorated back-country cave about an hour away from the visitor center, available to only 20 people with a permit each day, reached via a steep, cliff-side, 1/2-mile hike up the mountainside. "Ranger-guided tours of Slaughter Canyon Cave take you into an underground wilderness without electricity, paved walkways, or modern conveniences. In this wild cave, darkness is broken only by the flashlights and headlamps of rangers and tour members. Highlights of the two hour, 1¼-mile tour may include the 89-foot high Monarch, one of the world’s tallest columns; the Christmas Tree, a sparkling, crystal-decorated column; and the Chinese Wall, a delicate, ankle-high rimstone dam. Old bat guano mining excavations attest to the human history and impact in the cave." Our tour got lucky - because we were fast hikers, we got to see a few extra things they don't normally show, including a big mushroom-looking formation and The Guardian.
|A Glimpse Inside Carlsbad Cavern|
After an intimate exploration through Slaughter Canyon Cave, was the main event back by Visitor Center: Carlsbad Cavern. Versus the elevator, I opted for the Natural Entrance Route - "a 1¼-mile tour that follows the traditional explorer’s route, entering the cavern through the large historic natural entrance. The Natural Entrance route descends more than 750 feet into the earth following steep and narrow trails through a tall and spacious trunk passage called the Main Corridor. The route culminates in the underground rest area, near the elevators and Big Room route starting point. Highlights along this route include Bat Cave, Devil’s Spring, Green Lake Overlook and the Boneyard, a complex maze of highly-dissolved limestone rock reminiscent of Swiss cheese. Visitors should watch for Iceberg Rock, a single 200,000-ton boulder that fell from the cave ceiling thousands of years ago!"
My jaw dropped as I entered the Big Room. "Taking approximately 1½ hours, the one-mile 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." Seriously, this was an overwhelming experience. It was almost visual overload!