The tour I took was through a part of the Caverns called the King's Palace and the Queen's Chamber. "It was beautiful, just like the rest of the cave, and awe-inspiring. It became especially awe-inspiring when, to show us what the cave is like in its natural state (sans electricity), the ranger turned off the lights. I've been on cave tours where they've done this before. It's disorienting in the extreme. Black enough to where your eyes never will adjust. Black enough to where you literally cannot see your hand an inch from your face. Black enough to be terrifying. I don't know what the total stranger next to me thought of me moving my arm enough to where it touched his, but I needed to, in a very atavistic way. I don't think I could handle it for more than the few minutes they were out (which seemed an eternity, by the way)."
After the tour I climbed gratefully back onto that incongruous elevator and, reluctantly, went on my way. On my way out of the park, I took some pictures of what the land above the caverns looks like:
This one in particular shows what I meant when I said yesterday that the mountains just sort of appear out of nowhere
You can barely see the road winding up the canyon in this one
My next stop was Guadalupe Mountains National Park, which, even though it isn't that far down the road from Carlsbad, is back in Texas even though I went southwest to reach it. Guadalupe Mountains is best known for the mountain named El Capitan:
One view of El Capitan
Now, I don't know about you, but the first place I think of when someone mentions the name El Capitan is Yosemite. Here's a link to a photo of Yosemite's El Capitan. An entirely different place. But I think both are equally beautiful.
I stopped at the McKittrick Canyon Visitor Center and "walked their nature trail through the desert along a lovely arroyo with wonderful views," and read the signs about the native plants along the way. I was surprised to discover that there is a madrone that lives down there in the desert. I think of madrones as coastal trees here in the Pacific Northwest. After the trail I went through the museum, then ate lunch in the tent section of the campground as opposed to the picnic area, on the recommendation of the park ranger at the museum. "Good recommendation. They were the only shady tables for miles."
After I left Guadalupe Mountains, I headed west towards El Paso, which was pretty much a nothing drive all the way. "Desert, salt flats, a few mountains in the distance (the Guadalupes were the first mountains I'd seen since the Blue Ridge, though, so I'm not complaining)."
I arrived in El Paso about the middle of the afternoon, found the AAA office, picked up enough maps to last me home, which was not a welcome thought, and decided it was too early to stop for the night. So I crossed the state line back into New Mexico for the last time and drove forty miles on to Las Cruces.
The motel had Thanksgiving decorations in the lobby. It was extremely odd to see them when I was wearing shorts in the 80dF temperatures.