As I mentioned in my last post we took the bus and went to New Mexico over the long weekend. Our first stop was Carlsbad Caverns. We had seen signs for it during a road trip to Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon a couple of years ago and it seemed really interesting (I’ve never been in a cavern before-thanks Florida!) but it was a 6 hour detour at the time. We put it on our “interesting things to check out later list” and kept going.
For this weekend, we thought it would be perfect-not too far away and we could go to Roswell (aliens!!) on the way back. Perfect.
We took I-20 to TX-176 to NM-128 to US-62 to the caverns. We drove through oil country which was pretty interesting. It’s kind of an odd area overall. And the roads are quite bad. Very rough with poor road markings.
We stopped in Andrews, TX to get fuel up and let Finn out for a pee. Big mistake. Andrews, while one of the wealthiest small towns in Texas (all oil money, they sit right on a big reserve, but that means they follow the boom/bust economic cycle of oil and we’re currently in the bust portion), has a lot of stray dogs. Which we didn’t know about until they came over to check Finn out. We hadn’t seen any when we had initially stopped but I guess they must have seen him while we were walking around. At first, it wasn’t really an issue. The first stray dog was big but seemed friendly and not aggressive. Until the second dog came over. He was small and looked ready to start some shit. At this point we were trying to get Finn back in the bus but the dogs kept blocking the way and were starting to get more aggressive towards me and Finn- I had picked him up at this point. I was getting ready to punt the little dog. Luckily, Michael and the women he had started talking to (lovely lady; her husband had fixed a bus up with an ex-wife and wanted to do it again; she gave a brief history of Andrews) heard my increasingly distressed shouts and came over to shoo them away so that Finn and I could get in the bus without them jumping inside. Whew. I’ve been in the middle of a dog fight once and it is not something I ever want to repeat.
We keep going and once in New Mexico the roads got even worse. We met some incredibly friendly people though. It felt like every time we stopped someone came over to ask about the bus. Loads of nice people. Once in Carlsbad we drove around for a little bit to check it out. Then we headed out to find our boondocking spot for the night.
We got back into town and decided that we really needed a proper meal. And only one thing could satiate our hunger-BBQ. We found a little place (with excellent reviews-they were right, the brisket was great) called the Red Chimney. They close between lunch and dinner. I failed to realize that we had changed time zones so we thought we only had a half hour to go before they opened again. Nope. Hour and a half. Oh well, we were tired, didn’t want to drive around some more, and really wanted BBQ. So we parked in the back of the parking lot and took a nap. While we were there the employees and one of the owners saw us an came over to chat. Again, super friendly people (I was asleep during all this but Mike only had good things to say). Edgar, who owns the restaurant with his wife, even offered to let us camp out on a piece of property they owned right next door.
The next morning it was finally (!) time to go the caverns. Guys. It was so cool.
They have kennels available on site which you are required to use if the temperature is over 70. I got a little teary eyed leaving Finn there but he was totally fine and it’s probably the coolest he’s been since we left my mom’s house in Florida. They do advise that you take a jacket-it gets quite chilly down there- and warn you not to touch anything or to groom yourself (ie: don’t pick your nose and flick it off in the cavern or anything similarly gross). The park rangers go down and clean the whole trail by hand every night because otherwise everything will just sit there forever. There is no rain to wash everything away and no wind to blow it away. Plus, the bat population is fairly fragile. They won’t let you wear shoes (you’ll have to clean them) in there if you have worn them in other caves anytime in the last 10 years or so to prevent introducing foreign fungi and bacteria. Same goes for any equipment you may be toting.
Then you start to descend into the cavern. 750 feet down.
And let me tell you, wow does it smell like pee. Bat pee I guess? It tapers off the further down you go but at the entrance it is almost nauseatingly strong. Overall, the experience was just…wow. I have never been that far underground. I felt a little bit like a dwarf trudging under the Misty Mountains. We saw huge stalactites and stalagmites, pools, fossilized coral, all sorts of different rock formations. It was breathtaking. The park service did a great job lighting the trail-you could see mostly where you were going but it didn’t take away from the darkness of being so far below the surface and they highlighted particularly cool rock features and formations. We walked part of the Big Room and then opted to take the elevator back up since Finn was waiting.
At the bottom of the trail there is a gift kiosk and the underground snack bar. We had heard some people ahead of us talking about there being a full restaurant but it’s just the snack bar. It was a little surreal to end up at a mini shopping area.
10/10 totally recommend. It was fabulous.