Posts Tagged With: thunder

Cool Carlsbad Caverns

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.

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Guadalupe grandeur!

The GPS said it would be a 7 and a half hour drive to Guadalupe Mountain National Park, so at least eight and a half hours for us. I realized I hadn’t eaten real Texas BBQ brisket while in Dallas so I wanted some before I left Texas. Guadalupe National Park is still in Texas but closer to Mexico so I wasn’t sure of my prospects. We stopped at Texas Cattle exchange which said Tuesday at noon is the auction, it was 12:30. We started in and I giddily ran up the steps into the auction stage bleachers. I’d seen auctions at 4-H events but nothing like this, this was real Texas auctioning. I giggled standing there watching the calves come up one by one but quickly left, knowing that Travis was smelling the brisket getting hungry. Our brisket barbecue was delicious, served with a side of green beans and sweet potato fries. Okay, now our big food spending was done. 

As we approached Mexico, the gas stops and towns became more degraded. We left the interstate and were shocked at the desert landscape, complete with oil Derricks and flaming vent stacks. We steadily climbed into the mountains passing through deep chasms cutting to the sides of the mountains. We found the park with an hour left till sundown, explored the sites and pick #10 100 feet from the car. We set up our tents and Travis cooked dinner, chicken alfredo. We were at 5600 feet elevation and it was much cooler. We didn’t set an alarm, wanting to wake up naturally whenever we were rested. I ate oatmeal and Travis had Breakfast Essentials before heading to the visitor center to get some info on the trails. I left my tent up to reserve our side but Travis had to take his down because he needed his trekking poles. We set out for Guadalupe Peak Trail, an 8.4 mile round trip to the tallest mountain in Texas, 8749 ft. We ogled at the prickly pear and Cholla cacti along the trail. The trail was tough, a lot because we just driven across half the country, with no working out, and possibly some elevation acclimation. I was wearing my new long sleeve Sun shirt, hat, and capris to try to protect myself from this sun/heat. It was a little uncomfortable making me whine my way up the trail, eventually I got used to it and started noticing the views. We crossed a precarious cliff ledge, straight up on our right, good 5 feet wide Trail straight and down on our left. I wanted to do that my whole life. The fulfillment of my dream made me forget to feel any fear. We thought the mountain in front of us at the parking lot was the mountain, but it was actually one of five. The clouds started rolling in, making me think we weren’t going to make it to the top before the sky let loose. I wasn’t worried about rain but going down slippery rocks sure wasn’t making me leap for joy, I was worried about thunder and lightning. Clouds just kept rolling, giving us glimpses of the other mountains and valley that made them so much sweeter. Soon we turned the corner to find the monument marker high on the rocks above us. Immediately we dropped our packs and kept turning around, taking in The 360-degree View. Whew, we made it! I’d never have thought the highest mountain in Texas was this tall. There was a hiker box at the base of the pyramid or a geocache type box full of goodies like MREs, bandanas, coins, knives, a lighter, cards and a Piezo igniter. Most stuff we just sorted through but we took the igniter. I don’t like using lighters and this would never run out. My Achilles heel had been hurting slightly on the way up but had gotten worst the past 30 minutes. Travis wrapped it like he’d seen on YouTube as I rushed him because the Thunder and clouds were right there! As soon as he finished, I grabbed my pack and headed down. We passed people still climbing even as it started sprinkling. We put on our rain jackets and pack covers and continued racing down the mountain. Of course the sprinkling stopped​ and we got hot, so the jackets came off, down came more sprinkles. we passed loads of people going up even as we approached the car. I wondered if they would make it all the way to the top as the suggested completion time is six to eight hours and it was 4 p.m. It tookus seven and a half hours with all of our many breaks.

 Travis got excited to cook dinner because he was going to make pizzas! That’s right, pizza with our four and a half inch frying pan on top of a Optimus Crux gas canister stove. He brought out the tortillas, tomato paste, pepperoni stick, mozzarella block, and parmesan cheese making magic happen. First cut the cheese and pepperoni, then make tomato sauce, combine into the middle of a 12 inch tortilla and fold like a Crunchwrap from Taco Bell. Heat until golden brown on both sides. Let cool, enjoy! Oh what a glorious meal to celebrate our hike! 

Morning brought a beautiful sunrise even though the forecast was for overnight and afternoon thunderstorms. We got a late start to our 4mile desert hike through McKittrick Canyon. It was supposed to be mixed shade and Sun but of course was mostly sun. We bandaged our car in the reflective bubble wrap, reflectix, that Travis had specifically cut for each window, hoping that it would keep the car from getting unbearably hot. On our way to Platt cabin, we saw numerous lizards, a baby tarantula and a snake in the creek we crossed. We crossed a couple dry washes before reaching one with water flowing. Wallace platt had built a cabin there in the 1930’s because it was an oasis in the desert, the most beautiful spot in West Texas. It started barely sprinkling as we headed back, keeping us cool enough with an icy raindrop here in there. We ate a few bars for lunch before heading up the road to Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico.

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