Sunday, April 03, 2011

Carlsbad New Mexico: Carlsbad Caverns

The wind was rocking the motorhome this morning when we woke up. The forecast was for strong winds out of the south and high temperatures. After breakfast, I unloaded the bike. Bernie checked the  forecast of possible 60 MPH wind gusts and decided to bring the slide in on his 5th wheel for safety.

Our site in Carlsbad New Mexico

Bernie and Susan's rig

A very small Volkswagen camper with Euro plates

KOI at the KOA

Desert cottontails are everywhere

It was about 50 miles south to the famous Carlsbad Caverns. We stopped there briefly in 2005 but the last time we were below ground was on our 1981 Aspencade trip. Sandy and I left the KOA on the bike amid strong crosswinds. At some points, I was leaning right in a left hand curve but it was manageable. Bernie and Susan followed us in their truck. The Carlsbad by-pass worked great for missing the road work. South of town, dirt was blowing across the road much as snow does at home during a blizzard. The construction signs were mounted on springs so they leaned at crazy angles but didn't blow over.

At White's City (don't be mislead by the 'city' part), we turned on the access road to the caverns. This wound for several miles through a canyon before climbing up on a mesa via a couple of mild switchbacks. On top of the hill, the wind was quite stout. In fact, smoking was only allowed INSIDE vehicles. No cigarette for me.

In the canyon

Bernie and Susan's truck down below

Windblown Sandy, Susan and Bernie
Note the Motorcycle Only parking (concrete pad)

In the Visitor Center, we had a choice to make. We could walk down the steep winding path into the cave that would see us descend 800' in a 1.5 miles stretch. Or we could take the elevator down and then walk the 1.5 mile loop through the Big Room. Last time, we got there too late to walk down. There are all manner of warnings about assessing your fitness levels, suggesting people with knee and hip replacements or diabetes should probably take the elevator. I consider my diabetes, high blood pressure, overweight condition and leaking heart valves and made my decision. Walk down. One bonus was that our Annual Pass allowed all four of us in for free. Bernie was nice enough to rent us the audio devices for the self-guided tour.

Before we got to the entrance to the cave, we were stopped by a volunteer who gave us all the rules and again cautioned us about the rigors of the walk down. The first sight we had of the cave mouth was from the top of the Bat Amphiteater, where we watched 7,000 bats per minute leave at dusk thirty years ago. We started down.

Official government buildings

We are being given the rules

Bat Amphitheater and cave mouth

Bernie starts down with a cheery wave

The cave mouth

The start of the path

Looking back from the "Twilight Zone"

We met an intrepretive ranger who was walking UP

It took quite a while of walking down the steep switchbacks, stopping every so often to listen to the voice on the audio device tell us what we were seeing. Eventually, though, we reached the bottom and entered the Big Room, which left us with another decision. We could walk straight over to the elevators and return to the surface, take an abbreviated tour of the Big Room and some of its formations, or walk the entire circuit of 1.5 miles before getting to the elevator. Sandy looked sceptical but we walked the whole loop. I figure we invested enough getting down here that I was going to see it all. The distance didn't sound like much but following a path winding up and down through the limestone caverns and marveling at the decorations (stalagmites, stalactites, columns, draperies and popcorn) can take quite a while. The photos from the walk are posted in a separate blog entry.

After touring the Luray Caverns in Virginia last year, we couldn't help but compare.  The decorations and formations in the Luray are better but the sheer scope and magnitude of Carlsbad are awesome.

Would you buy a used cave from this man?

Sandy in the Big Room

Cute ranger

Eventually, we arrived at the elevators and took our ride 800 feet back to the surface. Sandy decided to go back with Susan and Bernie in the truck. I managed to pass three slower vehicles on my way back out of the canyon, hoping no enforcement rangers were out there because passing was prohibited. On the way back, we stopped in Carlsbad so Bernie could fuel his truck. North of town, the crosswinds took a nasty turn and became hard to ride through. The gusts were supposedly over 60 MPH and I believe they were at least that. If they had stayed steady it would have been no problem, but it was on and off. I was sure glad to make it back to the park.

Leaning in a straight stretch

Before loading the bike, I finally installed coat hooks in the trailer so our jackets could ride with the bike. Then I got the Wing inside and tied it down. We walked over to the office and ordered BBQ supper, which was delivered to our RV. Sandy had ribs (not the best) and I had a combo of brisket, pork and sausage which was not bad at all.

Fierce (sure she is) bull mastiff rescue dog at the KOA office

My next motorhome

As we got ready for bed with the motorhome rocked by wind gusts, I suddenly remembered a night in the fall of 1980 when I was camped in the city park in Carlsbad. That night, we all moved into the block shower building to sleep because big winds were tearing up the tents. Tonight, the TV was telling us that the town of Ruidoso, New Mexico and surrounding area, where I attended the Aspencade that year and we both did the next, was being evacuated due to wildfires driven by the same winds we were experiencing. Any thought of riding that area went right out the window. What a weird way to reconnect with my past.

We eventually turned in and let the RV gently rock us to sleep.

Today's Route (107 motorcycle miles):

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