I have no particular interest in caverns. Went spelunking once in the 80’s with a machinist co-worker. We entered a little slit of a grassy hole in West Virginia, slithered between a few cracks I wouldn’t be comfortable with now, descended about 80 or 100 feet into the ground to a rocky platform, where ropes would be needed to go any further. Each of us wore a carbide lamp, so we turned them out. DARK. Cave-dark. Darker than anything I’d ever seen or since. Never had the need to do that sport again though!
Jane too wanted nothing to do with caves, holes, caverns or closed spaces of any kind. Jean-Philippe (our trusted advisor again), assured us that it would be more like a cathedral or auditorium. Well lit and not constricted at all. I worried that it would be a light-show or organ music background. I don’t usually like a natural wonder that gets over humanized or commercialized.
But here we were, driving North on the only road that made sense for where we were headed in Colorado. Even that roadrunner and coyote gave us chuckle as if to say, “we were on the right road at the right time”. And smack along the way were two more National Park sites where we could use our Parks Pass. Quadalupe Peak looked beautiful and is the highest point in Texas. We had arrived too late in the day to hike the whole round trip to the summit. We don’t feel the draw to become “peak-baggers”, just love those tough hikes when the time is right. So as we left, both of us looked likely to mosey on into the cavern at Carlsbad, New Mexico.
Access is from a mountain ridge with a big parking lot. A big, full parking lot. We sort of forget that this is a holiday week. Lines snaking along ropes led to a smiling ranger who graciously gave us our tickets “free” after checking my I.D.and National Parks Annual Pass. While waiting we read about several options including 4-6 hour King’s Tours with a ranger, but also some shorter options. A glaring flat screen message blinked through some sales options and also a Big Red Warning to expect LONG WAITS at the elevator to come back up!
We saw another option even though we had only arrived just after 2:00 in the afternoon. Hiking in or out through the natural entrance was allowed. The overall distance covered would be about 1 ½ miles each way and descend over 750′ into the cavern. Cool! It was going to be like hiking an upside-down mountain! We’d much rather hike than ride an elevator anyway.
The entrance has been kept nearly the same as when it was “found” by white explorers. There IS evidence of Native American use, but not very deep and not very conclusive as to who, when and how much. Shards from pottery from varied sources have been inconclusive. were they “real finds” or discoverers looking for attention?
The only way to descend any great amount in a short distance is with looping switchbacks. And those switchbacks did LOOP! The surface was asphalt, dry and very grippy. The trail about 40″ wide and lined with a nice steel rail everywhere it counted. True to word, the place is “cavernous”. BIG, HIGH, WIDE in places. Mostly dry and a general constant temperature, but a welcome 90% humidity, particularly after weeks of desert dryness at less than 30%.
Describing the formations is about as silly as the process of naming some of them. Kinda like cloud-watching metaphors. I’ll let the pictures do their magic, leave out my 1000 words. Suffice to say, we went all the way down into and around the big room and enjoyed that hike back out! Jane continues to impress me with her growth as a hiker. She really rebuilt her heart after that darned chemo (It had snuffed her cardiac Ejection fraction from a baseline of 72% down to below 50%, and a healthy normal average is about 65%). We were passed by only one guy, a runner, all sweaty and breathing hard. Jane paused only about twice on 2 of the many, many stone benches on the way back to our world.