Incredible Nature: Carlsbad Caves, Painted Deserts and Petrified Forests

I seem to have lost my camera cord so I can’t download my photos! Pictures to come… I still wanted to post this though…

We’re driving late into the night each day and waking late, this morning to hot, dry, flat, scrubby desert.  Occasionally there’s a ridge – a bluff – like in the cowboy movies and I find it ruggedly beautiful. There’s a deep part of me that resonates with sand, dunes and hot weather, although here (as opposed to Padre Island’s high humidity) the air is so dry that my hair feels thin and flyaway, my skin feels tight and I seem to be continually thirsty. (And I guess if S really wanted to see a rattlesnake or a scorpion we could just hike in amongst all that brush? Seems we’re both content just to imagine it!)

We took a break to get the truck serviced at Ford – seems they go out of their way at Ford to be friendly and helpful – wherever they are – and my truck passed it’s inspection with flying colours. Next stop Roswell and UFO’s? No! The mechanic persuaded us to go see the Carlsbad caverns which were just 20 miles away – up a steep hill and along into a high valley. (They were simply incredible and I’m glad we listened to him!)

We were too late to see the caverns that evening so we went to the park’s ‘bat program’ and learned about the furry, little mice-with-wings that hibernate and sleep way down in the caves, while we waited to watch them fly out at nightfall to hunt. Later in the year a cloud of more than 200-500,000 bats leave the cave at once and from a distance they look like a column of smoke. I bet that’s an amazing sight! Tonight we saw about 50 bats. They are very tiny and the only way I could tell them apart from the swallows that nest in the mouth of their cave was by their jerky movements.

The desert seems to come alive at night and while I was sitting outside in the dark a group of mule deer came to graze close to me.

I was still mistaken and believed it had to be a person that I loved but I had a much more restful sleep, reassured that my life in Corpus Christi will wait and still be there when I return.

The next day I took a deep breath, faced my fear of confined spaces and airlessness and descended 700′ into what felt like the bowels of the earth to see these Carlsbad caves. On the walls of the elevators there were photos of cavers exploring tunnels that they could barely squeeze through lying on their bellies… I couldn’t think of anything more unpleasant and terrifying and prayed that we wouldn’t have to do that! I needn’t have worried as there was a paved path and handrails, as much to protect the caves from straying tourists as for our convenience. The caves were fabulous! The lighting had been done by a theatre expert from New York and I loved the ‘real’ and natural way the beauty of the caves had been highlighted. I am going to give more details and pictures and (I hope) a short video of these magnificent caves soon – I’ll link that page here and also through ‘On The Way’ on the Home page.

I thought with great affection – and huge respect – about my friend who goes spelunking with her son every year on his birthday.  I had no idea caving was so ‘deep’…  Lots of people totally addicted to it and now I can sort of see why… Beautiful. But no, I don’t think you’ll ever catch me crawling around in tunnels miles under the ground! But I’d love to come camping for the weekend while you do?  I so wish you’d been here today R: you would have just loved this – one of the most amazing things I’ve seen.

We drove on to Roswell, home to the UFO scandal in the 1950’s when something – UFO, weather balloon or secret military spy balloon – crashed in the desert here. There was really nothing to see, just a cheesy little shop and plastic green aliens stuck on every shop window: very disappointing.

After a quick cha-cha – which was great! – and a delicious enchilada and chile rellenos in a small bar we drove on towards Vaughn and Albuquerque under one of the most dramatic evening skies I’ve ever seen.  We drove into the night until, like the most unlikely of mirages, a massive, bright green plastic tent surrounded by brightly coloured lights  appeared out of nowhere. Curious we discovered one of the many desert casinos and to the amusement of the cleaning staff, emptying ashtrays into their large cleaning carts, we cha-cha’d again, this time to Rhinestone Cowboy. What a wonderful adventure.

At 2am people, most of them looking bored, unhealthy and smoking cigarettes. were hunkered down, feeding their hard earned $$ into cynical one-armed bandits. Flashing lights, loud rock music and videos of life-size blackjack hostesses with large cleavages, demanding your attention with feigned coyness and jollity didn’t seem to be working? No-one was sitting with them… or smiling.  I scratched my head – after closing only for a couple of hours the casino opens again first thing in the morning, offering gamblers a stack of free, stodgy pancakes and free coffee – and more gambling. There’s even a special car park (at a small cost!) for trailers and RV’s complete with plug-ins for power.

I realized that we were on route 66 – aka america’s ‘main street’, stretching from Chicago to California. What an experience and a discovery! Of course it was a long road and cutouts of Mater and Lightning McQueen were in every cafe! Later that day, in a place called Ludlow, a nail embedded itself into one of our tires and we had to replace it. Luckily one of these roadside cafes was right next door to the garage and we enjoyed an all-day breakfast and famous pie.

Slowly we drove on towards Flagstaff – the part of the journey that Steve was most looking forward to. I was curious to see a ‘painted desert’, layers of black volcanic ash, pink sediment, red clay, yellow sandstone and other rock and minerals colouring the huge slabs of rock jutting from the ground. As much as 225 million years ago this whole place was underwater, before it became a vast flood plain and the rock was carved by streams and receding water. Wow… Another park with simply amazing nature, well preserved and run by State rangers. Naively I had overlooked the sheer natural beauty of parts of America: I am humbled.

While we were looking for a place to stop for filet steak and new potatoes (tough life on the road!), we crossed route 66 (again) and the Santa Fe railroad by a little wooden bridge – with a goods-train whistling under us – into the petrified forest. At first I didn’t really know what I was seeing and might have missed the ex-trees but Steve pointed them out. Petrified wood is literally a tree turned into stone over hundreds and thousands of years. Aboriginal peoples used it for spear tips thousands of years ago as it kind of breaks up into little cubes, following the natural ring formation in the tree. Is there anything that nature can’t do? How can I possibly take myself seriously in the face of all this splendour? In fact, it puts things into perspective a bit and it’s helping me to connect with my soul in a deeper way than ever before. For that I’m very grateful.

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