It was a long drive from the national Park sign to the actual visitor center, climbing up the more-desert-looking-than-Texas-mountains. We headed straight in towards the info desk to inquire about the hours, pricing and timing. The natural entrance into the cave was 1.5mi long and the big room was too, taking about 2 hours total, depending on how often we stopped and took pictures. It was $10 per person but our national park pass made it free. We packed up jackets and water (it’s a humid 56 degrees down there) and headed out. A guy we’d just seen at the Information Center asking about where to stay with also heading down. The path was very steep and it wasn’t long before the stench of guano (bat poop) hit us. It was almost unbearable to stop and take pictures of the entrance, a giant dark hole in the earth. We kept descending lower and lower, on steep switchbacked paths, eventually losing sight of the natural light, now only seeing by the dim lights overhead. We passed by amazing formations and we weren’t even to the main room yet! We made our way to the big room and were even more awestruck. This was a giant cave, equal to about 14 football fields with a 255 foot ceiling, all 750 feet below the surface. We continued around the big room, creeping past stalagmites, stalactites, popcorn rocks, massive boulders, and other wonders. I wasn’t sure how neat the caves would be or if we wanted to explore more but we definitely did! We enjoyed the cool dark atmosphere and wanted to learn what else was hidden down below the Earth’s surface. We took the elevator up and explored the vast gift shop filled with turquoise jewelry, pottery and other cultural tourist traps. I kind of wanted a native pottery piece but didn’t know what I would do with it.
We cooked dinner by our car in the parking lot, waiting for the bat flight program. They’d set up an ampitheater just outside the natural cave entrance so people could watch the bats fly out. Around 7 p.m., we wandered over to the amphitheater to get good seats and waited, listening to the distance thunder and looming ominous clouds. The ranger told the gathering crowds that if lightning came within 5 miles, he would have to cancel the program and make sure everyone left the amphitheater. We were all hopeful that the storm would stay away long enough for us to see the great bat exodus. At 7:30, the ranger began, telling us a bit about the bats, but he was cut short. Just a few minutes in, he had to tell us to go away. I was really bummed especially because I didn’t think we’d be here the next evening. It began to sprinkle as we drove back to Guadalupe. The dark storm clouds looked neat against the setting sun behind the mountains. The rain stopped and Travis was able to set up his tent. We researched where the nearest REI was so that I could buy new shoes that didn’t hurt my feet. I had had this problem before and had tried on altra lonepeak 3.0’s and liked them, so I was pretty dead set on finding them when we found one. Conveniently there was one in Tuscon, which would be our next stop anyway, but more on that another time. According to Google, my issue wasn’t in fact Achilles tendonitis but rather retrocalcaneal bursitis, inflammation in the area above my heal that the Achilles slides against.
We decided to check out more of the caves and leave Guadalupe for another campsite. We slept in, mostly because we wouldn’t be hiking in the heat, packed everything up and headed back to Carlsbad caverns. I thought we were in time for the 10:30 kings palace tour, but the clerk said it would take him a while to print the tickets. I was a little miffed that we would have to wait till the noon hour, if we had been helped by a different clerk 15min would have been more than enough time to print tickets and get to the meeting place at the bottom of the elevator in the caves. We now had an hour and a half to explore the gift shop and eat our lunches. We sat outside in the shade of the building, charging our phones, cameras, battery packs and my fitbit. We made scrumptious peanut butter and Nutella taquitos with delightful dole fruit cups (mmmm fruit!) on the side for lunch. Finally it was time to head down to begin our tour. The king’s palace tour was 83 stories deep, the lowest part of the cave open to the public. Travis was picked to bring up the rear and make sure any stragglers weren’t left behind. This cave room was stunningly handsome and did indeed look regal. There were different formations everywhere, including soda straws and “tortured lovers kiss,” a stalactite and stalagmite that were permanently 3mm apart. The tour winds through the Queen’s chamber, dressed in ladylike, multicolored curtains of stone. The ranger had us sit and turned off the artificial lights, letting us “see” the natural essence of the cave. He brought out a single lighter to show us how those who first explored the caves would have experienced them. We headed out getting to use a restroom deep below the Earth’s surface, which we both thought was kinda cool. The other tours we’re too pricey so thats where our cave exploration ended.