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STOP #269

"Land of Enchantment"
is our 37th visited state


New Mexico has an "official" state question: “Red or green?”
This refers to which variety of chile sauce you’d like on your food.
If you answer “Christmas” you’ll get both.

We may have only traveled 30 miles today, but we did enter a "new to us" state, the state of New Mexico. While we'll only be here three short days we'll be back for another short visit next month, before we visit the state extensively next year.

This visit has but one purpose, to explore the Carlsbad Caverns National Park. It will be our 55th visit underground and we are just as excited about this one as the first.

Not only are we visiting New Mexico for the first time we're getting a taste of what it's like to camp in a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) campground. BLM campgrounds are almost always FREE and they take no reservations. You just show up and pick a spot to camp. They always have a "stay limit" and in this campground it's only 5 nights, usually it's 14 nights. That's OK with us, we're only here for 3.

So for the "Grand Price of $0" we have a pit toilet facility including toilet tissue and our very own garbage container. We also have a sturdy metal shade canopy with a picnic table, a ground grill and a fire pit. What we don't have is water, electric, sewer or a dump station. There is however a free city dump station in the town of Carlsbad, NM at the water treatment plant.

Not bad for FREE!

Someone even left us a half bag of good charcoal in the grill!

MONDAY - We finished setting up the trailer, ate lunch and then decided to go check out the Visitor Center at the National Park. It would give me the chance to take care of a couple of housekeeping chores like purchase my Carlsbad Cavern sticker for my National Parks Passport Book and of course get the passport cancelation stamp.

The 7-mile drive from the park entrance sign to the Visitor Center was stunning, winding it's way up through several canyons and overlooks. After checking out the Exhibit Hall we watched a short movie about the park's history and creation. Then we traveled the 9.5 mile gravel road that goes even deeper into the park called the Walnut Canyon Desert Drive. It is along this drive that most of the park's hiking trailheads can be found.

No hiking for us today due to the 30+ MPH winds we're experiencing. So we returned to the campsite to enjoy dinner and watch the sunset.

TUESDAY - Today is the day we get to visit Carlsbad Caverns.

But before we share a few of the over 600 photos Tricia took while inside the cave today, I'm going to give you a few tidbits of wisdom I gleaned during our visit. For lack of anything better I'm calling it:



(1) First and foremost you need to "MAKE A RESERVATION" for your tour time on Recreation.gov, this will cost you $1 per person, but be aware it is not your ticket into the cave. This reservation can be made as early as 30 days before your tour or as late as two days before your tour. The sooner you can decide on a date the better, because they have a limited number of entries (about 300 per hour) and there are only six times to choose from. I suggest you book the 8:30AM tour time to make it easier to secure a parking spot. It also means you minimize the risk of arriving to a very crowded cave from people left over from the tour times before you.

Arrive at the Visitor Center 30-minutes before your tour time. You'll need to get in line to purchase your actual cave entrance tickets. If you have a Lifetime Senior Pass bring it in with you, it will admit up to four people for FREE. Even though it may be free you will still have to go through this process of waiting in line to get your tickets.

When you purchase your ticket the day of your tour you'll be asked, "hike in" or "elevator in"? CHOOSE TO HIKE IN!, unless you are physically unable to walk 2.5 miles at a slow pace, with many opportunities to sit and rest. If you elect to take the elevator in you'll miss a large portion of the total cave experience.

(2) After you secure your ticket you'll want to go directly behind the Ticket Counter to the Bookstore. Here you can rent an Audio Tour device for $5 each that narrates 50 Points of Interest during the tour. Since this is a Self-Guided Tour I highly suggest these devices or you'll be missing a lot of information about what it is in front of you and the history of the cave. An additional tip is if you have a set of "wired" headphones that work in a cell phone jack, bring them. This way you can wear the headphones, can cue up the narration at each stop, return the device to your back pocket and free up both hands to take all your photos. It sure beats holding the device up to one of your ears while the 1-2 minute narration plays at the 50 different stops. Stops #1-20 are on the "hike in" section of the tour.

(3) OK! You've got your tickets and rented your Audio Tour devices, it's time to go outside and get in line to enter the cave at your designated time. Here is where a bit of strategy goes a long way. Once you've gotten past the Check-In Ranger and listened to their saftey guidelines, you'll want to make your way to the back of the pack. That's right, let everyone get in front of you. There will be a few people who will take advantage of the last opportunity to use the Port-A-Potties before entering the cave, usually those with young children, but don't worry about them. Eventually they will catch up to you. You will see or hear them coming, just find the next available rest stop and let them pass. There are a lot of rest stops on the way down the 750 feet from the cave entrance due to the fact that everyone used to have to hike back out of the cave. That all changed when they installed the elevators, now everyone must exit the cave using the elevators. Using this strategy the only people you'll be sharing this portion of the cave with will be anyone who arrived late for their starting time, there will always be a few of them, and the people who used the restroom at the cave entrance. Remember, there won't be anyone else admitted to the cave for another hour until the next tour time!

Take your time, your not on a guided tour, so there is no pressure to keep up with the pack. Stop and take many photos, believe me you'll want to. Enjoy this portion of the cave! When you get to the bottom you'll arrive at The Lunch Room and the Elevator Exits and Entrances. This lunch room serves snacks and drinks, but is only open Friday through Sunday. There are also restooms available at this location. From this point on everything changes!

(4) Congratulations! You are halfway done with the tour and the best half is yet to come. You are in what's known as "The Big Room", and it is. The trail through here is one big loop bringing you back to the elevators and lunch room. There is one shortcut about half way through the loop if you're not feeling up to the extra half mile that makes up the rear of the loop. Don't take the short cut unless you physically have to.

Tricia and I took 1-1/2 hours to get to this point. That means all the people we let pass us are now infront of us on the loop, along with all the people that had 9:30AM reservations and opted for the elevator ride down. That means we could have about 300 people in front of us and most of them are the slow walking senior citizens or families with small children. But with Tricia stopping to take so many pictures we were part of the slow walking group also. There are not nearly as many places to sit and rest along this portion of the route, but half way through at the very back of the outer loop is a large seating area where they have Ranger discussions and will answer questions. Take advantage of this rest stop and again let everyone get ahead of you when the discussion takes a break.

(5) Now that your tour is over, another bit of wisdom for you is if all of this has worked up your appetite the restaurant at the back of the Gift Shop (top side) has excellent food in a cafeteria style setting. They have a varied menu but my suggestion is to try their Pulled Pork Sandwich with Pricky Pear BBQ Sauce. They make the sauce right there in the restaurant's kitchen. It's a very unique flavor and I'm going to try to find something similiar in the local supermarkets before leaving New Mexico.

(6) My last bit of advice, now that you've eaten and rested, is to grab a Driving Tour Brochure from the information counter and drive the 9.5 mile gravel road that takes you even further into the park. This is where you'll find most of the hiking trailheads, but we weren't up for any more walking today. Still the drive is beautiful and the brochure will explain what it is all around you that you'll be seeing.


Your adventure begins just around the corner.
This is the auditorium at the cave entrance where they host the summertime Bat Flight Programs.
You begin making your way, back and forth, then repeat, down into the cave entrance.
These little number signs alert you to which session to cue up on your Audio Guide device. Keep an eye out for them, they're easy to miss.
Still going down?
Finally inside and looking back up at the morning sunlight.
Still going down while looking back up.
The last of the natural sunlight you'll see on this tour.
Now we're beginnig to see some of those familiar formations.
But the trail keeps leading down.
Sorry but the cave is very dimly lit, which makes for an exceptionally great cave experience, but lousy light for photography.
Just stunning, but the best is yet to come.
An hour and a half later we're at the bottom of the cave and find the promised restrooms. There is also a snack bar, but it's only open on the busier weekends.
The balance of these photos were taken while exploring "The Big Room".
I'm going to stop with the captions for awhile and let you enjoy the slideshow.
This formation is called "The Lion's Tail". I can see why.
This is not part of today's tour! This was left behind by the original explorers.
The formation known as "The Chandelier".
Finally! The elevators that will whisk you up 750 feet and into the Gift Shop in under 60 seconds. Hold on tight, to your money that is!

While we didn't see any of the nearly 400,000 Brazilian Free-Tailed Bats that park is also famous for (only here from mid-April to October), we did witness a flock of several hundred Cave Swallows exiting and returning through the cave entrance. We'll have to return someday while the bats are here!

A final word on Carlsbad Cavern National Park. Not only is the park one of the 51 National Parks in the Lower 48 states in the U.S., it is one of only 19 UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Sites. UNESCO sites are described as places of great importance to cultural or natural heritage.

Not surprisingly 10 of our 19 World Heritage Sites are National Parks, further proof that our National Parks are of great importance to preserve and protect.

WEDNESDAY - Seeing as how this is our last day in New Mexico, at least for a little while, we have a few chores to take care of.

First thing this morning I called our mail forwarding company to make sure of license tag renewal stickers had arrived. If everything goes according to plan we'll be in Alaska when our current tags expire so I renewed early so we didn't have to worry about getting mail in Alaska.

Next I was able to locate a Geocache nearby on the way into town, so I was able to check that off our New Mexico Bucket List.

Also I found a restaurant that offered a Green Chili Cheeseburger on the menu. It's just your everyday cheeseburger except instead of mustard and ketchup, it's topped with a green chili sauce. It was different and tasty, but I'm not sure if I liked it better than what I'm used to. That was checked off the Must Taste Bucket List for New Mexico.

Finally we went into the town of Carlsbad to check out the free dump station we intend to use tommorow. It had an easy approach and exit, as I expected to find from using Google Maps, but I like to be sure when towing the trailer I don't find myself on a dead end street with no way to turn around.

Also while in town we went to the Murphy Gas Station at the Walmart to top off ROVER's tank with $3.99 gasoline. We have a three hour drive to get to the next stop tomorrow. While at the gas station we were treated to a rare sighting, a 1947 Curtiss Wright Clipper. This trailer looks like an Airstream because Wally Byam, the Airstream Founder, designed it. The two men worked together for a while but shortly after World War II ended the two men went their separate ways.

It even has a chrome plated propane tank on the front.

It's so shiny you can see Tricia's reflection on the side.

Look at all those windows and an awning (probably not factory equipment).

Good advice there!

Look at the size of that front door. I wonder how often those jalousie windows broke when slamming the door?

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