On the border between Texas and New Mexico lies a mountain range, the Guadalupe Mountains, and includes a big rock face that is parked like the bow of a ship on the prairie. El Capitan is the rock face most prominent on the bluff overlooking the valley below, and Guadalupe Peak is perched on El Cap’s shoulders, making it the tallest peak in Texas.
This national park covers 86,000 acres and is almost completely inaccessible by road. The entire place is wilderness area, and there are no roads, facilities or services in the interior of the park. It must be a backpackers paradise.
I wish I had time and gear to go in for a couple of days, but a drive by is all I will get to enjoy this time. And I’m not complaining, since I’m very happy to have discovered it. Any one coming by this part of the world should put it on their to do list.
Just 35 miles up the road is the turn off to visit another UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s been on my list for a while, Carlsbad Caverns. I’m not a big fan of caves, although we have some beautiful and impressive caves back home in South Dakota that are incredible – including Wind Cave, Jewel Cave, Rushmore Cave and others.
I opt for the elevator ride to the 750 foot level instead of walking in through the natural cave opening, but only because I’m short on time and my leg still complains if I make it do to much. It’s gotten comfortable being lazy…
As I step off the elevator and go through the revolving doors into the cave, I can feel the humidity in the cool 56 degree air. It’s hard to believe I’m 75 stories underground.
The Big Room is about the equivalent of 14 football fields of space, a staggering number and I can hardly get my head around it. The lights are low, keeping the feel of the cave intact, but also keeping me from being able to see things and get some perspective of exactly how big the cave is. There are so many stalagmites and stalactites, that the cave feels very ornate.
There are dozens of creations with names like Fairyland, Rock of Ages, the Liberty Dome (which was first explored on July 4, 1976, our Bicentennial), the Lion’s Tail, and more. The center of the Big Room has two of my favorites – the Chandelier and the Totem Pole.
There is a long trail that traces its way through the cross shaped galleries of the Big Room. There are more than 120 miles of mapped rooms in this cave. But my trail today covers less than 2 miles. It still takes me over an hour to make the trip.
During six months of spring and summer several hundred thousand bats fly out of the cave each night to feed, and they sleep and nest in the cave during the day. They have gone south for winter already, but perhaps I can see them another time. Sadly, the number of bats is only a fraction of what it once was because of environmental factors that are killing bats, mainly DDT and other toxins. The current population is estimated to be only about 10% of what it was decades ago. Note to self…come back and see them someday, it must really be something.