RIDIN' HIGH and GETTIN' LOW
Greetings from New Mexico! We left Big Bend National Park and headed northwest to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. From the moment we arrived, the wind was relentless but we still filled our afternoon with hiking. Due to time constraints, we hiked a two of the shorter trails within the park. The Smith Spring trail was a leisurely 2.3 mile hike through the Chihuahuan Desert up to a small woodland spring.
|Smith Spring Trail|
|Devil's Hall Trail|
The 4.2 mile Devil's Hall trail was a fun trail filled with lots of rock-hopping, ending with a climb into Pine Springs Canyon via a natural rock staircase. At the end of the day, we stopped to catch the sunset over El Capitan, the park's most famous rock formation. Due to the high wind, the heavy layer of dust from the surrounding desert filled the sky. Hoping for better conditions, we woke up early the next morning to catch the sunrise over El Capitan. It was bitterly cold, maybe only 20 degrees with 40 mile per hour wind gusts, but we decided to head out anyway. As the sun began to crests it illuminated the storm clouds surrounding El Capitan, as well as the face of the reef itself. The gusts were non-stop during the 10 minutes of photographing. After I felt like I had the shot, I packed up my gear as fast as I could and ran back to the warmth of the car. My hands stung horribly for about 10 minutes.
|Sunrise at El Capitan|
Because of the intense wind gusts, we decided to cut short our stay in at GMNP. We were a little disappointed that we couldn't hike to the top of Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas, but we figured the hike would be pretty miserable with 50 mile per hour wind gusts. We drove up the highway to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, which is only about 40 miles away from the Guadalupe Mountains.
It was around noon when we descended into the abyss that is the Carlsbad Cavern and we didn't emerge for about four hours. We entered the cavern via the natural entrance, a steep paved path that descends roughly 800 feet in one mile, and then explored the Big Room. Having been to Luray Caverns in Virginia many many years ago, we expected a very similar experience; however, Carlsbad Cavern definitely puts Luray to shame.
|The Beast in the Big Room|
|Hall of the Giants|
|Reflections of the Chandelier|
Everything is on a grand scale, from the giant stalagmites, stalactites and columns to the delicate groupings of soda-straws. The mile long Big Room trail allowed us to walk the perimeter of the largest room in the cave, which spans 8.2 acres. It took two days of exploring to fully enjoy all of the cave formations, including the Hall of Giants, the Chandelier, the Bottomless Pit, and the Rock of Ages. We also signed up for the King's Palace guided tour, which allowed us to access a different part of the cavern. The 1-1/2 hour tour took us through some of the most decorated rooms in the cave complex, but unfortunately tripods were not allowed on the tour. At one point on the tour, the guide turned off all of the artificial lighting, allowing us to see the "natural lighting" of the cavern. Being 750+ feet underground, it was the complete absence or light. The guide also instructed everyone to hold their breath and it was pretty eerie to sit there in total darkness and total silence, which is a rarity in today's world.
On Saturday, we decided to take a break from the caverns and headed north to Roswell, New Mexico. We expected Roswell to be a kitschy town filled with UFO and various alien paraphernalia; however, it looked like any other desert town. Sure, there were a few UFO-related gift shops and the obligatory alien statues were scattered along the sidewalks, but there was nothing out of this world (sorry about the pun). We spent about an hour inside the International UFO Museum and Research Center, which basically housed what looked like a collection of third-grade science projects. It was definitely cheesy, but kind of informative. If all of the information we read was true, it's safe to say that a spacecraft crashed outside of Roswell and the government covered it up. Knowing how our government is, it's not too far-fetched. There were also some first-hand accounts of alien abductions, which were good for a laugh.
|Operation in Progress|
After we perused the museum, we were eager to grab some sort of alien-inspired food like an alien burger or some UFO fries, but we were disappointed when we found the iconic Crash Down Diner had closed. We left Roswell feeling hungry and let-down. It didn't get any better when the next three places tried to eat at were closed. We ended up eating at McDonald's and it took us five minutes to get into the parking lot. Apparently it is the only restaurant in Roswell open on a Saturday afternoon.
To finish up our stay in the Carlsbad area, we dropped 40 dollars on the Spider Cave tour. The tour started out by hiking out to the entrance of the Spider Cave and descending a ladder into the cave opening. We then had to belly-crawl through spaces that seemed entirely too small to fit through. We navigated through the cave by crawling, climbing, and sliding. It was definitely a unique experience and I suspect we will be going on more caving expeditions in the future.
Next up: Valley of Fires and the Salinas Pueblo Missions, followed by White Sands National Monument and the Organ Mountains.
|Natural Entrance Rock Formations|
|Big Room Columns|
|Pine Spring Canyon at Devil's Hall Trail|
|The Stalactite Chandelier|
|Dust Storm over the Guadalupes|
|On Devil's Hall Trail|