Part 7: Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns


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The Trip

We arrived late at the Guadalupe Mountains because there was no camping at Hueco Tanks. That was just as well because Hueco was both hot and buggy. Guadalupe Mountains NP has a rather low-budget camp ground. Specifically, the best description is camping in a parking lot. But no matter, we were there for just one night. The objective for the day was to visit Carlsbad Caverns and see the sights. The photos below are what we saw.

The view from the parking lot (aka camp ground) was pretty nice. The mountains were large and the peak was the highest in the state of Texas at over 8,000 feet.

I stopped for a bio-break and spotted this fellow in the brush. I have no idea what this will turn into when it is done.

The wet weather allowed the prickly pear to have plenty of fruit. These are edible as it turns out.

When we got to Carlsbad Caverns parking lot, there were plenty of cars. I spotted this nifty compact trailer close to where we parked the mog.

We chose to hike down into the cave and the entrance was quite stunning. There was seating for many hundreds of folks to watch the bats that come out of the cave every night around sundown. The mouth of the cave is huge.

The descent into the main cave is steep and there are many, many switchbacks. Above, you can see a small fraction of them.

The formations started very near the entrance. They got better as we went deeper.

Notice the intricate structures on the surface of this stalagmite.

The formations got progressively better and bigger as we went deeper.

More detailed popcorn structures.

There were large galleries of stalactites that were covered with popcorn.

All of the formations were impressive and all were the work of water depositing minerals over many hundreds of thousands, or millions, of years.

Note the writing on the side of this structure. Somebody defaced it with the number 5.

Most of the large structures had names, this one is called "Lion's Tail" because of the popcorn at the end of a normal stalactite. These were the only 2 of this type that I saw.

Several of the structures were dimly illuminated, but sufficiently to allow the camera to get a good shot.

A number of these formations were huge. All were impressive.

This set of drapery was very nice. Drapes were seemingly rare in this cave.

Three massive stalactites with flow formations on their surfaces.

You can judge the height of these formations from the people in the background. Without a reference, you assume from the photo that the formation is small, but they are not.

This stalagmite with flow was particularly impressive.

A very tall stalagmite with flow. Note the people at the base and the handrail.

Noting the anatomical similarity, this formation is called "Venus's breast".

This was, in my opinion, the best photo of the set. Taking shots in near-total darkness in hard for all cameras and the flash will "blow out" anything that is too close relative to the focus distance. Technical issues notwithstanding, the detail of this formation was awesome. Note the water dripping down the center of the formation.

There are two main levels to the cave. The main tourist views are on the so-called upper level. Back in the 1930s, the National Geographic Society led an expedition into the lower level. This ladder is left over from that expedition. The next level is a long, long way down.

The main cavern area is called the "Big Room" for good reason; it is 14 football fields in length and very high. Note the line in the center of the photo. This is a rope that is hanging from the ceiling. An expedition went to a room high above this level and had to climb the hanging line. They used a balloon with a metal ring on it to hook the rope onto a formation in the roof. One very brave soul ascended the line. Note the scope of the room based on the hand rails near the center of the photo.

This is a "live" cave with water dripping and formations still growing. There were a number of pools in the cave, this one is called "Mirror Lake".

Another huge stalagmite with flow formations on its surface.

This formation is called "Rock of Ages". Note the size relative to the people.

Another view of the Big Room.

Another view of the Rock of Ages.

Even modest illumination makes for a much better photo.

More intricate flow structures.

This one was very large. Note hand rail on bottom left.

Note the hole structure.

Carlsbad Caverns is a must see for anybody that is in that area. If you are physically able, I strongly suggest the walk down into the cavern as that is the best way to get a feel for the scope of the cave. At the time of this writing, the NPS will NOT allow folks to walk up. You must take the elevator the 700+ feet from the big room to the surface. I have been in many caves, several on this trip. Carlsbad is clearly the granddaddy of the all.

It was still very hot; too hot to camp so we headed north into the town of Carlsbad to get a motel. Sadly, the place we wanted was full so we got a low budget place that had A/C, but not much more. Tomorrow, we will head to the Fort Davis park in Texas and from there south into Big Bend.

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Photos and Text Copyright Bill Caid 2008, all rights reserved.
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