Driving through Texas and Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

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November 30th 2019
Published: December 1st 2019
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November 18 we continued west leaving Austin and with our sights on Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico. We had a gorgeous sunny day and traveled 300 miles and were still in Texas! Spending the night in Fort Stockton. The drive was quite straight and the speed limit on that part of I-10 was 80!!! Our vehicle is comfortable at 60 max. It was quite rough in some areas too but I guess in a car 80 would probably be able to enjoy that speed😊 The landscape changed from flat ranch land to hilly ranch land, and the last 50-70 miles was much more barren looking with shrub brush, lots of oil fields, with miles and miles between exits. In that last stretch too we saw lots of plateaus and buttes. It started to look more like what you would envision seeing in the south west. The areas along the highway where they had to blast ledge for the road was white/tan limestone/sandstone looking rather than the dark/grey rock we see in New England. Many layers of rock was also exposed in these areas which I thought was really cool.

Before we joined I-10 from Austin we took a US route and learned that Texas has many wineries! I read online that between the town of Johnson City and Fredericksburg there were more than 40 wineries. I believe it because we kept seeing them and were quite surprised. We also saw peach and pecan farms. Fredericksburg was a really nice looking town. Kind of like Freeport but much bigger with hotels, shops, a historical district and park. We weren't in the mood to stop so we kept going but if ever in that area again, I would plan for it to be a stopover. Along this stretch I saw a sign for Luckenbach, TX. Title of an awesome Waylon Jennings song😊 It was about 20 miles off of the route we were on. I googled that too and it says it "is not much more than a wide place in the road and it's often STOLEN sign says population 3!" Also all that is there is a general store and bar with dancehall....but they still play live country music.

After spending the night in Fort Stockton we headed north west to White's City, NM which is at the entrance to the road leading to Carlsbad Cavern. When we exited the highway onto the route northwest our first expression was, "look how straight this road is!" and you could see FOREVER. We traveled over 100 miles on that road and it was ALL oil fields. It made me think of the Alaskan tundra. There were lots of trucks transporting oil/gasses and water. Road construction was heavy here ditching for pipes and widening the road. We saw lots of water treatment areas and learned salt water is a by-product of oil and gas extraction. There were RV parks in the middle of no where among these work areas as well as a few communities for the workers. It looked like rows of doublewides. It reminded me of the old cutting camps in the North Maine Woods. I felt like we got a glimpse into our son Zack's working world.

Once we got close to the NM border it began to get slightly more hilly and we could see the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in the distance. That is in TX along the NM border. Little did I know when we were seeing it all those miles away we would have a much closer view once we were in White's City as it is only about 50 miles from there.

The best part of this travel day was our daughter-in-law Jen sending us some pictures and video of our little grandson River. I felt like it was my birthday! Mike and I sent them a video back of thanks and wishing them goodnight😊

White's City is really cool. All right there in one strip of street. The campground registration is in a space of a strip mall type building. They have a gift shop, grocery, post office, laundry all right there. Across the street was a restaurant and adobe duplexes some that were restored for rent. On the hill across from where we were parked was a stone building. We were hoping to walk up there to check it out but is was fenced off. I was so impressed with the young people working at this campground. When I was in the gift shop area which is also registration they were so friendly to customers and to each other. They were happily decorating for Christmas. They were so genuine. The part we stayed in was pretty much a parking lot but we had full hook-up. They had another loop off the road area for long term people.

Carlsbad Cavern was an incredible experience. The drive was 7 miles up the road we stayed on. You went around the first corner and you went from being in the flat lands to feeling like you were on a canyon floor winding your way to the top. The visitor center was on top of the hill and you could see miles and miles! The cavern has evidence of having been discovered over 1000 yrs. ago by native people to that area. In the 1800s settlers discovered the cave when they saw dark clouds swirling around the mountain every night in the summer time. It turned out to be bats. Jim White (White's City) began exploring the cave and some of the settlers actually harvested the bat guano (poop) for fertilizer. Apparently it was a huge sell. White used to give tours of the cave by lowering people down in a bucket! Can you imagine! It became a national park in 1930. Through further exploration 100 caves have been found. One area holds what they call a "spectacular but fragile ecosystem. Scientists have discovered enzyme producing microbes capable of destroying cancer cells. Research continues.

When visiting here you can do a self guided tour of the "big room" the main cavern(this is what we did) or you can pay for guided tours into different areas with the park rangers. The self guided tour you can walk down through the natural entrance or you can take an elevator down. We walked the 1.25 miles down. It was all paved and while steep in some spots it was an easy walk. Walking back out was more strenuous just because it really gets your heart rate up. But no climbing or anything like that. It is dimly lit and Mike did bring a headlight for us which was helpful in some spots. I took over 200 pictures! Lots of them got deleted and most do not do it justice at all! The flash created an orange glow and we didn't see that. I had a very hard time trying to narrow the field for posting so there are a lot of them here.

The walk down takes you 750 feet into the ground. Equivalent to 75 stories of a high-rise building. Then when you get to the big room the loop is
1.25 miles there. The video we watched before going in said 2 US capital buildings can fit in that space! The formations we saw were beyond words. I told Mike I wished I had a more extensive vocabulary to adequately describe what we were seeing. Natures beauty at work again! We saw rock that looked like what you image the moon surface to be, rock that looked like coral, icicles, bones. Some areas looked like melted marshmallow or a plastic display you would see at an amusement park made to look like ice or snow. There is water but no streams or springs, just what is created from the moisture of the area. We heard drips and got dripped on. There was no smell or taste to it. Some areas were natural niches bright white. At the same time I was thinking it, Mike said to me, "doesn't that look like it should have the Virgin Mary Statue in there like in a church?" Another area at quick glance the formations looked like some chess pieces. Down in the big room as well was a snack bar, bathrooms, the elevator access and the area you would meet the rangers for their tours. Lots of areas reminded me of habitat areas I have seen at zoos or at amusement parks that were made to "match" something natural to the exhibit but these we were seeing here were 100% natural! Again, I just can't find the right words to do it justice. Walking the path back up to the surface you could see a long ways to the ceiling and at one point Mike said, "looks like heaven". I felt so small and the world so big. It just stretched on and on. I thought a lot about how much our son's Sam and Ben would love this place.

The bats were not there they have migrated for the winter. The first 20 minutes or so of the walk was pretty stinky being the place they hang out. In the summer when they are there, you can sit in the amphitheater just outside of the natural entrance to see the bats come out at night. I imagine that is quite a sight. I'm not sure I would want to be sitting that close to where they come out or not....When we are in the cavern it was incredibly quiet when we weren't around other visitors. A very awe-inspiring peaceful experience. By the end of the day I had guessed we walked at least 5 or 6 miles, but the map told a different story 3.75mi. 😊

I hope you enjoy the pictures of the cavern and scenes from the road. From here we headed north to Roswell UFO country....so stay tuned😊

Additional photos below
Photos: 101, Displayed: 28


7th December 2019
Natural Entrance

Natural entrance
Switchback Heaven!
7th December 2019
Canyon road to Carlsbad Cavern

Canyon Road to Carlsbad Cavern
I have posted this pic in out "Follow that Road" thread in the Photography Forum. Check it out.
8th December 2019
Canyon road to Carlsbad Cavern

Photo forum
Thank you Dave. Nice pictures in the forum. Safe travels
7th December 2019

Looks like you guys are having a lot of fun. I love the entrance to the cavern. Love reading about your adventures!

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