I headed west from Big Spring towards the New Mexico state line on "a road so straight I swear they laid it out with a ruler. If it deviated more than a few inches from left to right the entire distance (about 80 miles), I'd be real surprised."
After I crossed the state line, I noticed something bright orange way up in the air off to my left:
Natural gas burnoff, or at least so I was told later
I arrived in Carlsbad, New Mexico, around eleven in the morning, having gained an hour crossing back from Central time to Mountain time when I crossed the state line. I used that hour (plus some extra) with a visit to the Living Desert State Park, on a hill overlooking the city. It's sort of the desert version of Northwest Trek, a wild animal park featuring local critters rather than exotic ones, and where at least some of them get to roam relatively free.
They had just about every animal native to the deserts of New Mexico known to mankind, and I managed to take pictures of quite a few of them:
I did not note what kind of birds these were, alas
Owls, obviously, not sure what kind. Barn owls, maybe?
The only critter they didn't have, which disappointed me, was an armadillo. They even had big cats and wolves, and, out in the area where they had room to run, they had bison, of all things, and deer, and desert bighorn sheep, none of which I managed to get photos of, unfortunately.
The view from the hilltop the park sat on was very nice as desert views go, too:
After my time with the animals, I went back down into Carlsbad in search of lunch, and once again Lonely Planet hit a home run. "The place was called Lucy's and it was very good." I ate way too many fajitas, and had twenty-five cent sopapillas for dessert.
"Then I headed 25 miles south of town to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. This was a completely different world. I turned off the highway and mountains just sort of appeared. The road switchbacked up 1400 feet higher than Carlsbad's 3000 feet, to a visitor center perched out in the middle of nowhere."
I bought a ticket that would allow me to hike down into the cave from the natural entrance, and headed out.
"Words are going to fail me here. [I wrote, and then wrote about a page of them -- bear with me because this place made an enormous impression on me] The path switchbacks below an amphitheater lined with stone benches:
"Down into what looks like a bottomless hole. A huge bottomless hole. Down, down, down, the light getting fainter with each step, until finally you realize that all you're seeing is electric lights placed strategically to provide just enough illumination to keep you from falling over something and killing yourself. Down. Your eyes adjust, sort of. A bit of level and you think, ah, finally, the bottom. Nope. Just a respite for your wobbly legs before yet another set of switchbacks. A touch of claustrophobia hits, then passes as you stare in awe at the magnificence of the speleothems (the collective term for stalagtites and co.).
"Finally, you reach the Big Room. You're 750 feet below the surface, in the biggest single cave chamber in the Western Hemisphere. Except that it's not a single chamber. It's a labyrinth of columns and draperies, soda straws and boulders bigger than a Mack truck. There's a place tall enough to take the Statue of Liberty, and places so tight that it's hard to walk through.
It's really hard to take photos inside the cave. I have lots more, but they're mostly blurry, basically useless, and meaningless to anyone but me, and I'm not going to try to inflict them on you
"Then you come around a corner, and there's a bloody elevator. A coffee shop, with decor straight out of the Jetsons. And restrooms. How they got the plumbing down there is beyond me. The elevator is the kicker, though. It's like the bloody Twilight Zone."
I was grateful not to have to climb back out the way I came in, though, I must say.
It was an adventure. And since the last time I'd been to Carlsbad Caverns was at the age of three, carried around the Big Room on my father's shoulders or so I'm told, it's an adventure I'm glad I had.
Like so many other things I did on this trip.