Oh My! It was the kind of storm that Jackie said “runs cars off the road in flash floods … like us.” Pitch black until the lightning hits all around you in multiple flashes, rain blasting in sheets on the windshield, with wipers on high and no effect. Gusts of wind rocking the car back and forth. And then we didn’t recognize the road we were on. How did this happen you ask? Let me back up a bit first.
We left Albuquerque in the rain on Wednesday and climbed the mountains and down the eastern plains headed toward Roswell. Finally out ran the rain, but as we were just north of Roswell we saw white stuff in the shoulders and median. Snow?? Yep, you guessed it. The temperature was around 42, but there had been snow before we got there and good traces of it lined the road. Doo, doo, doo, doo (Twilight Zone music). Something is weird in Roswell – well we already knew that. Green aliens adorn everything in town. We drove right through, hoping to see a cool spot to eat, like the Alien Café or something, but it looked pretty much like any small town.
Onward to Carlsbad and we spotted a small herd of Pronghorn near the road. Finally, some wildlife.
We are staying at a very nice KOA north of Carlsbad about 15 miles. Seriously nice, clean, level, wide spots – perfect for campers like ours. So we set up camp and were told that the bat flight was at 5:45. Hmm… can we make it down to Carlsbad in time to see it? Sure, no problem. Feed the pets, walk the dog, grab some gear and head to the park. Let’s see, that is 15 miles to Carlsbad, a long slow drive through town, and 28 miles (yes, 28) to the park. Ok, and here we are at the entrance. Driving in along a beautiful winding road a few and then a sign “No Passing Next 5 Miles.” What? How far IS it?
Park the car, walk to the amphitheater of stone seats surrounding the cave entrance and we wait, while watching a wonderful display of cave swallows circling and swooping down into the cave for the night. Rumbling to the south, but hey, we are miles away from that. As the ranger finishes up his cautions about no photography, the bats start to swell out of the cave in a circling tornado that grows ever larger. Out they come and off they go. The trail off over the hillside looks like a swarm of insects that just keeps coming out of the cave. We are told that it can sometimes last up to 3 hours. Rumble, rumble again. Hmm, maybe after 30 minutes we should consider heading back to the car. We do and start to make our way back to camp. Flash, flash. We ARE in a desert, right?
That takes us to the start of this story. About the time we reach Carlsbad it is getting dark. Mind you, there is basically one long straight road from camp down to and through Carlsbad, so this should not be a problem. But as we are just about to leave town, the storm hits and I veer right instead of left. Dark, rainy, windy, lightning … where the heck are we? Jackie pulls out her phone, uses Google maps and guides me back onto the main road, but it is a storm like no other. She counted down the miles (12 more to camp) while gripping the phone and seat very tightly and we finally pulled in. Cat and dog were safe, but rattled nonetheless. Rained all night. The leak over the dash will have to be fixed sometime soon.
Morning is beautiful, sunny, blue skies. Back to Carlsbad we go and on to the National Park. Jackie spotted some Bighorn Sheep on the way in, so we got some good pictures on the hillside. Time to go underground now. If you have ever been to Carlsbad, you know what we were going to see. If not, you need to visit sometime, as this is a cave like no other. We walked in through the natural entrance, which started where we watched the bats make their exit. Cool descent past the bat cave and down to the interior. We thought the formations and passages were amazing, but it wasn’t until we hit the Big Room that it became spectacular. Up the elevator (75 floors) for lunch in the gift shop, then back down for a ranger tour of the King’s Palace.
What an amazing sight. The formations in the rooms of that tour were wild – and the rooms were filled with them. Stalactites and curtains hung from the ceiling too numerous to count, the stalagmites and popcorn formations on the floors just incredible. Well worth the small cost to take the tour.
As we were halfway around our self-guided tour of the Big Room (and it is huge, plus over a mile of walkways) we could hear the noise of children’s voices coming our way… and yes, a class trip of 7th graders caught up and passed us. Ahh, the reminders of what we left behind (the boys were smacking each other’s miner’s helmets and “hey guys, wait up” sort of stuff). We thoroughly enjoyed the caves.
On the way out of the park we saw another herd of Bighorn Sheep. Nice. And the ride back to camp was blue skies and sunny. We actually got to see the landscape this time.
ANSWER to pop quiz. No, it isn’t the hills of Austria from “Sound of Music” … it is the rounded limestone hills of Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Didn’t look like the desert Southwest to me.