Every moment spent in Big Bend was well worth the time and effort. We weren’t quite done with Texas so before heading up to New Mexico so we stopped in El Paso to check out the area. What we didn’t realize about the area is that many of the museums are closed on Mondays, so instead we did a short hike at Franklin Mountain State Park up to a small cave. Afterwards we went for lunch at Los Bandidos de Carlos & Mickey’s and we each had a Texas-sized margarita! Even though we didn’t spend much time in El Paso it was good that we stopped, their grocery stores are super inexpensive. You can see right into Mexico from the highway, so it wasn’t surprising that their avocados and limes were under 50 cents.
On the way to Carlsbad Caverns National Park we stopped at White Sands National Monument for less than an hour just to check it out. There’s camping and hikes that you can do but we just checked out a little boardwalk and took a scenic drive. The gift shop at the monument also sells sleds so you can sled down the dunes! It was a good time watching some of the kids sled down the dunes, but it’s definitely different than sledding in the snow.
Driving to Carlsbad Caverns was a pretty normal drive, besides the fact that we drove past areas that do missile testing for the military and there are several border patrol checkpoints. We got to our campground pretty late, but there were a few other tent campers there. It’s really amazing meeting other travelers that are doing something similar when you’re so far away from home. One was from Alaska and the other from Ohio, both escaping the winters just like we are! We exchanged stories around the fire for awhile and all contemplated this bizarre banging noise we could hear in the distance… If anybody can shed some light on the consistent banging sound that echoed through the night, please let me know!? It’s been weeks and I’m still curious about it!
Carlsbad Caverns National Park was the third national park we went to, but it was completely different from the others because well, it’s underground! We got there a bit later than we expected (we really aren’t morning people at all) so we couldn’t hike down into the cave, but instead we took the elevator 75 stories below the visitor center. We paid for a guided tour so we could learn more about the caverns and tour guide took us into an area that they don’t allow you to venture into by yourselves. It was well worth the money, there were several stories she knew about the park and how it got founded that we wouldn’t have learned about on our own.
Jim White, the person that found the cave, was just a curious 16-year old that saw all the bats flying out of the cave at dusk so he investigated! He went down into the cave and found all of the stalagmites, stalactites, chandeliers and soda straws all beautifully formed. Of course, that was all seen with the help of his kerosene lantern. Without the lantern he was just sitting in darkness. Our tour guide was able to turn off the lights during part of our tour to show us just how dark the caverns really are. We were all silent while the lights were off, all you could hear was the faint dripping of water.
On our tour we learned that it takes hundreds and hundreds of years for these formations to get as large as they are now. They now do the tours in certain areas as a way to protect them, a lot of guests would vandalize the formations by breaking off parts to take home or even writing their names on the cave walls. Even just touching the stalagmites can damage the way they’re forming, and even stop the entire process just because of the oils from our skin. It’s too bad that visitors can’t just simply visit without damaging the cave. Of course, some parts of the cave aren’t even accessible by the average visitor. Over 120 miles of the cave have been explored and mapped out, making it the largest cave in the western hemisphere. The caverns are a really special place, I’m glad we were able to see it!