Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains
The Trip to Carlsbad
We headed west from Alpine through Marfa, then north on highway 90. It was very quiet with very few cars, dried-out ranches far apart, and a scattering of cows now and then. Even the town of Valentine looked like it had seen more prosperous days with empty storefronts, vacant houses and abandoned equipment.

Before reaching Valentine, we saw a small airfield with a tethered blimp. We could see the object for a few miles, and in this sparce landscape it attracted our puzzled attention. Advertising? When we got closer, we saw that it was a plain white, kinda short and stubby. We later learned that it was 'Fat Albert,' a tethered radar blimp that is used by the U.S. Government to search for airbourne drug runners.

It was really windy, so driving involved staying alert to some pretty stiff gusts. We were gradually swinging to the north on our way past Guadalupe Mountains to Carlsbad, NM. The wind began giving us problems. We could stay on the road O.K, even in the narrow and rough sections. But it was catching our awnings and unrolling them. We stopped first for one side, then the other. It was quite a trick to open an awning into the wind, and get it to reroll properly. The wind was now a steady blow, with sharp unpredictable gusts. We stopped again and this time reinforced the awnings with a couple bungee straps. As we finished the task, a state patrol officer stopped to check with us. He suggested that we might want to 'sit it out for a few hours' to see if the wind dies down. He mentioned that down the road a semi-trailer had just been blown onto a guard rail. We cautiously headed on up the road.

We reached highway 52 and turned northeast toward Carlsbad. We were greeted by permanently mounted warning signs for high wind areas. We drove into the burg of White City, located on the west end of the national park entrance. We check into the campground and quickly learned that all the hotels, cabins, the campgrounds, all the shops and stores were owned by one person. You guessed it, a Mr. White. Our campground was stark, very few amenities but we had full-hookup and faced the mountain.
Carlsbad Caverns 
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located in the Guadalupe Mountains in southeastern New Mexico. Early settlers called the caverns Bat Cave because of all the bats. A million Mexican freetail bats live in the cavern. In the early 1900s the bat droppings or guano was mined as a valuable nitrate-rich fertilizer. Jim White was a young miner and enjoyed exploring the caves in addition to his job at the mine. His interest in the caves lead others to become interested in preserving this natural wonder.
In 1923 the caverns were named a national monument and in 1930 the area became a national park because of its natural beauty. One of the parks major attractions is the Bat Flight that occurs every evening in the summer. At dusk, hundreds of thousands of bats fly from the caverns in search of food. Since we explored the caves in winter, the bats were "vacationing" in a warmer climate.
Our exploration began at the Visitor Center where we examined the wide range of activities available at the park. We decided to enter the Natural Entrance of the cavern and take the mile long hike down into the Big Room. After purchasing our tickets and turning on our "audio tour" headsets, we started down a short nature trail to the cave entrance. The Natural Entrance is described as a "strenuous" hike, but we decided that any trail that's all downhill can't be that tough! The paved walkway began with a series of switchbacks leading into a dark fairyland of beautiful stalactite and stalagmite formations.

The Guadalupe Mountains were originally an organic reef at the edge of a great warm sea. Over time the reef was covered with sediment and began to develop fractures. Carlsbad Caverns were formed by the dissolving action of underground water in the cracks made in the limestone. Dramatic earth movements caused the mountains to lift up and the water in the cave was replaced by air. Today, melting snow and rainwater continue to leave droplets of water that dry and leave behind a mineral such as calcite. These mineral deposits form stalactites, stalagmites, columns, popcorn, and other interesting formations.
Although the surface temperature was cool in winter and hot in summer, the caverns remain a constant 56F degrees. We found jeans and a light jacket the perfect attire. At the end of the Natural Entrance trail, we found restrooms, a gift shop, and lunchroom. Although we wondered whether these modern conveniences were appropriate in a place of such natural beauty, the restrooms and drinking water were a welcome sight. We asked a ranger about the issue of conveniences over preservation and she pointed out that the modern plumbing was a great improvement over the old chemical toilets that caused both smell and underground air pollution. With hundreds of thousands of people using the caves each year the facilities are essential.
As we entered The Big Room we wondered whether we might get bored with another mile of cave. However there with an interesting formation around every corner and we didn't have time to get bored. We found the following interested facts:
  • Stalactites are formed from water dripping from a ceiling.
  • Stalagmites are created from water falling on the floor of the cave.
  • Soda straws are thin, hollow stalactites.
  • Draperies are formed where water dripped down a slanted ceiling.
  • When a stalactite and stalagmite are joined together, they form a column.
  • Popcorn is formed when water evaporates and leaves behind a mineral deposit.
  • Cave pearls are created as layers of calcite form around a tiny object such as a grain of sand.
Guadalupe Mountains
Our next stop was Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The Guadalupe Mountains are part of an ancient marine reef that formed 250 million years ago when this area was part of a tropical ocean. The ancient reef towers over the landscape.
We enjoyed a 4.6 mile round trip hike in McKittrick Canyon to Pratt Lodge. Lined with maple, walnut, ash, and chokecherry trees, it was beautiful in the spring. We'll have to come back and see the colors in the fall. This was an easy hike along a beautiful sandy creek.

We enjoyed reading about the stage coach trail that went through the park. At The Pinery there are ruins of a stagecoach station on the Butterfield overland mail route from the mid 1800s. The route varied through history, but the remains of this stop can still be seen.

We also visited the visitor center as we traveled south out of the park. It was windy again as we drove along the mountains, then headed west toward El Paso.

Created by Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson, 7/01.
Updated 5/02.
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