February 20, 2011

2/18/11 – Carlsbad Caverns NP

I’d been to Carlsbad when I was maybe 14, but didn’t think it would have changed much in 50 years.  It was summer when we were there, and weren’t dressed for the 56 degree temperatures in the caverns.  My cousin Charlotte told me we only went on part of the tour, then took the elevator back up because we were cold.  I’m blaming my brother!  (Isn’t that what brothers are for? J ) 

We got to the park about 10:30 because George is retired and sees no need to get up early for anything.  That didn’t give us enough time to go on the Natural Entrance hike, then the self-guided Big Room tour, and still be able to go on the ranger-led tour of the King’s Palace.  We decided to skip the Natural Entrance hike, and had no problems getting onto the 2:00 ranger tour, although I’d read you should make reservations in advance.   This is a really good time of year to visit because there were so few people, and we didn’t need reservations at all. 
The elevator goes down 750’ in 3 minutes, with only 8 people at a time, plus elevator operator.    They’re doing routine maintenance on the 2nd elevator and the 4 bigger elevators are being repaired,  including removing the original steel beams used as guide rails which have corroded, removing the original lead-based paint and repainting them.  One of the rangers told us they won’t be completed on schedule for summertime and tourist season!  At least they didn’t send us down in the old guano bucket!
We rented audio guides, which look like really giant TV remotes.  When you get to a numbered sign, you try to see the numbers on the remote-thingie so you can key them in and listen.   I especially liked the ones where they talked about the early history of those who first explored the caverns. 
They tell you to take as many pictures of the caverns as you want; they don’t tell you that they probably won’t turn out.  It’s a cave—it’s dark.  Although there’s lighting on many of the decorations, you can’t hold still long enough to keep the camera from jiggling.  If you use a flash, then you light up stuff you didn’t care about, and if you don’t, then that’s another problem.  We didn’t have tripods...

 The lighting is LED and highlights (ha!) what they consider the best stalactites, stalagmites, columns and whatever else gets built up in caves—popcorn and soda straws and draperies and other really cool stuff. 
The “Big Room” is huge, of course, and the paved trail takes you all around and through it.  It’s about a mile and a quarter.  They say it takes 1½ hours, but it took us longer, taking all those pictures that didn’t turn out.  Then we had to hustle to get to the next tour of the King’s Palace.
We were surrounded by rangers.  Well, actually there were two—one leading us (Ranger Lee), and one at the end of the line (Ranger Jeremy) making sure no one got left behind.  Both were extremely knowledgeable and both were cute and friendly.  We actually saw a lot more than just the King’s Palace--there was the Queen’s Chamber, Green Lake, the Papoose Room and more.  
At one point they sat us down on a (very cold) rock wall and turned off the lights so we were in total darkness!!!   Because we were sitting down, it’s wasn’t frightening, just weird.  If you move your hand across in front of your eyes, your brain expects it to make a shadow, so it appears blacker but it’s not; you can’t get blacker than the total absence of light.  There’s NO WAY I’d be able to do some of the other tours where you have to crawl around on your knees in the dark with a  headlight (“bring 4 new batteries”).  Uh uh!!!!  I’m definitely not cut out to be a spelunker!
For what they’re worth—here are pictures.  My favorite was the Doll’s Theater, although the Rock of Ages is pretty cool too.   Carlsbad Caverns NM

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