Carlsbad caverns and the Coronado Trail
Fri 18 May 2012 - Sun 20 May 2012 80 °F
Friday was a fairly light day for us, with only one major stop: the Carlsbad Caverns. Good god, am I glad it was our only stop.
For as long as I can remember, I have been susceptible to a mild variety of Stendahl syndrome that manifests usually when I visit art museums and try to see too much of them in a single visit. I can go about three hours before I space out, and if I try for much longer than four hours, I start to freak out. The worst case I can remember was the time we tried to do NYC's MoMA in one day. About 3PM, I could feel a kind of hysteria, as though I were about to throw up or have some kind of panic attack. "NOW. WE HAVE TO LEAVE NOW. EXIT. NOW." I had a splitting headache and couldn't think for the rest of the afternoon/evening.
You can probably guess where this is going. The Carlsbad Caverns are like visiting an immense underground art gallery, with the added complications that you are 700 feet below the surface, so there's no easy exit, and it's about 13 degrees Celsius. (Aside: weird thing, I still think in Celsius below 20 degrees. Above that, I now think in Fahrenheit.)
The 9AM ranger-guided tour was full, so we opted to hike all the way into the caverns (a couple of miles) via the Natural Entrance. Approaching the entrance itself, it's very easy to understand how one might believe in concepts of mthological giants and their modern-day fantasy descendants, such as Balrogs. The earth opens into an enormous gaping mouth like a grouper fish, and cave swallows (seriously, cave swallows) dart in and out from their mud nests on the cave wall. Actually, they do more than dart; they dive and defecate. Matt has the white streak on his had to prove it.
The National Park Service has installed an extensive system of trails inside the caves, all nicely paved and provided with hand rails, and they've taken the trouble to artfully light all the interesting cave features. It's easy to forget that without the lights, the cave would be utterly dark. Matt and I were amazed by how silent the cave trail could become, despite the nearby presence of far too many indifferent and loudly chattering schoolchildren, just by rounding a few corners in the limestone passageways.
I think the pictures speak louder than anything I could possibly say to describe the caves, and they don't even do the caves justice. After a couple of hours of gazing with my mouth looking like the cave entrance, I was completely wiped out and unable to process anything I was seeing, but I still took photos. My left hand was bundled into my hoodie pouch, but I remember my camera hand being painfully cold.
Two days later ... uh, that's yesterday ... we were up in the mountains at the highest altitude either of us have ever driven. We drove from City of Rocks State Park up through Arizona via Route 191, formerly Route 666 (truth), aka the Coronado Trail, aka the Devil's Highway. OK, when I say "we," I mean Matt did the driving, because I come from a very flat country where I grew up driving in the city, and just looking at mountains scares me, never mind driving on them. The first accident I ever had was on a winding country road.
Good news: Holy crap, views. We went from dry desert to a fascinating yet disturbing vast copper and gold strip mine to the fire-ravaged Apache National Forest, with mountain vistas all around. Also, we survived hundreds of hair-raising white-knuckle switchbacks with no guardrails. My kingdom for a guardrail. Bad news: the GoPro gremlins didn't want to cooperate with us, so we won't have a time lapse of our Coronado Trail drive, which really sucks. But we do have pictures we took with our regular cameras along the way:
N.B. More photos to come! Tough time finding good internet around here ...
I think we topped out at around 9200 feet elevation, but I snapped a picture at OVER NINE THOUSAND, because internet: