There’s no such as perfect timing—but absolutely awful timing is alive and well and continues to shatter the dreams of spontaneous adventures everywhere.
My second chance to visit the Carlsbad Caverns came at a truly terrible time. I was in the middle of moving from Dallas to Germany, by way of Washington D.C, and was running low on both time and energy.
But it’s only one hour away.
The thought kept running through my mind as I sat in my car debating whether to make the detour.
I was parked in Vann Hornn, Texas, a small town notable only for its designation as the halfway point between Dallas and Phoenix. My morning had been spent unloading my car and reloading my belongings in my father’s SUV. He had graciously agreed to not only store my belonging for the next two years I would be abroad, but also meet me halfway between our two homes to pick up his cargo.
One hour, a seemingly short distance, but a huge commitment when you’ve driving twelve hour days back to back.
I’m not even sure when I consciously made the decision to go for it, but sure enough, my car was soon passing signs calling out the way to the caverns.
The experience made the extra miles worth it .It’s hard to describe the feeling of being in a cave if you’ve never been in one. Disorienting and eerie are a few words the come to mind, along with magical and whimsical.
There are a few things about caves that make them such a unique experience:
- Caves are one of the few places on earth where “true darkness” exists (the other is the bottom of the ocean). Beyond the strategically placed theatrical lighting used to showcase some of the unique cave formations, there is no light down there. It’s all darkness and dripping water and the sounds of bats squeaking overhead. I did the self-guided tour which had minimal lighting, but there are some ranger guided tours that go into unlit portions of the cave (sign up in advance, spot fill up).
- There’s no service down there. That’s right, no social media, no texts. While you’re down there it’s just you and nature and other people experiencing the caves. It very much forces you to be in the moment and I really loved that.
- It’s disorienting. People naturally use the horizon and manmade objects to provide perspective on size. Without landmarks your eyes understand, you’re listening to the mobile guide tell you that this stalactite is actually way bigger and way further away than your mind is telling you.
- Lastly, it’s freaking ancient. There are parts of the cave that used to be part of the ocean ( an ancient reef) 250 MILLION YEARS AGO. I had to replay that part of the tour to make sure I heard correctly the first time. Then I took a moment to just appreciate the age of the location I was standing in. There’s nothing more humbling than a moment that firmly places you within the long scope of this planet. We are all the center of our own universes, so I always appreciate and remember moments that truly make me feel like a tiny spec in the continuum of time and space, of what has been and what has yet to come. It’s thought provoking.
My trip to the Carlsbad caverns was exciting and just a little terrifying. It was dark and creepy and I passed shadows that I just knew were full of unknown creatures ready to leap out at me. Then I reached the bottom and it was so beautiful it looked like it could be the vacation home for fairies. So many mental references to Lord of the Rings made while I was down there (Nerd level on fleek).
In terms of the park itself:
Carslabad Cavern National Park is my favorite national park so far. It executed the basic necessities well—it was very clean, the bathrooms were clean, there was clear signage and the park was easy to navigate. There was also an option for the physically handicapped to have a very complete experience at the park by using the elevator. On top of the basics, there were several ranger led tours available, and the self-guided tour was excellent. The narration was both informative and entertaining. When the time came to complete the extended loop through the cave or head back up, I decided to keep the tour going.
I’m in love with this park. I wasn’t ready for the intensity of the ranger guided tours , but I’m already planning a 2016 trip and I think I’ll be ready by then.
Living and working in Washington D.C, but still posting and sharing about recent adventures. Check back next week for an exciting new post about my upcoming international move. That’s right, next Wednesday I’ll be tweeting from my new home for the next two years. I’ll see you then!