White Dunes, Aliens, and Caverns, Oh My!

(Note: This post will have many photos, so the email will probably not have them all. You may want to go to the website directly)

New Mexico was our last big touristy stop on this 25,000 mile journey, and our first stop in the state was in Las Cruces, which was the 70th campground we have stayed at. We arrived in heavy winds, rain, and surprisingly cold temperatures, so we ended up staying put on the first day after arrival.

The following day, we headed out to White Sands National Park, about an hour away. It was a little strange (actually very strange) to be in the New Mexico desert, but then come upon what looks, and smells like, the Atlantic Coast beaches. Some of the plant life also look like those found on the sand dunes along the coast, and there are salt deposits in the area that provide the salty aroma of the ocean. The dunes are white because the “sand” is actually gypsum and selenite particles, that reflect light nicely when they break down into particles. Here’s an interesting video about the geology.

Hey look, we’re at the beach – not!
My wife looking like Lawrence of Arabia striding across the dunes.
The views were amazing

We departed Las Cruces and headed to UFO Central, Roswell NM, the site of the famous 1947 weather balloon UFO crash. You can read all about this fun story and decide for yourself what to believe. In any event, it was fun to wander through the town, visit the UFO Museum, and peruse the displays. We also stopped by the more normal Roswell Museum (no ETs allowed in), and I enjoyed their exhibit on Robert Goddard.

Roswell Visitor’s Center
Town Mural
In the UFO Museum

The next day we turned our backs on outer space concerns, and headed deep underground at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

We have both been in caverns at different times over the years, but nothing compares to Carlsbad in size and reach. The underground rooms are truly enormous in size, to the point that I did not really feel that I was underground. There are miles of underground trails, though only sections are open to the general public. I felt like I was hiking through the Mines of Moria. Gaia certainly enjoyed creating this underground palace. Here’s more history of Carlsbad on the Wikipedia page.

We were not able to get a spot on the only Ranger guided tour currently available, so we had to settle for the self-guided tour. We opted for the full hike down, instead of using the elevator, so we started at what is called the Natural Entrance, where the bats fly in and out of during the warmer months. This is located on the top-right of this map (keep it handy). After our eyes slowly adapted to the dark spaces, we followed the blue and red trails through the various “rooms.” The green trail is only open for Ranger guided tours so we did not get to see those spaces.

The trails are kept very dark to keep wildlife from moving into the caverns, to the point that we could not see the trail under our feet. Many of the interesting structures have some lighting, but the photos that I took below were made using the night-mode on my camera. And typically, the true size of these rooms cannot be grasped by looking at the photos.

Look at me, I’m a spelunker!
We went down, and down, and …
Devil’s Spring Area. It was several hundred yards distance to the point ahead.
This is called “Whale’s Mouth” because of the similarity to baleen
Going down even further; the “light lines” are railings along the trail going down, near Iceberg Rock.
I felt a little nervous walking under all of these pointy stalactites.
Totem Poles
I think this was down into the “Lower Cave.”
This stalactite was called “The Lion’s Tail.”

Here are more photos of Carlsbad Caverns on the Park’s flickr page, and a short video about the cavern is here. There are over 100 caves in the park, but only three of them are open to the public.

This was definitely a fun journey underground, and I didn’t even have to wear any sunblock!

We are off to Albuquerque for the next stop.

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