Monday, 25 April 2011

Carlsbad Caverns: Easter Weekend 2011 Part I

Outside the Carlsbad Caverns VCFriday we left out of Midland around 9AM, the drive is pretty dull, much like Kansas back when we drove from Colorado to Alabama during Grad School. I stopped a few times to grab caches in Andrews and Lea Counties for the Permian Basin County Challenge (GC2MX53). We arrived around lunch to find the Visitor Center very active which wasn't unexpected. It was National Parks weekend, which meant no entry fees were collected in any of the National Parks. Several bus loads of elementary school children were there along with hundreds of other tourists. We opted for the Natural Entrance hike to get the full cave experience so we got our free tickets and out we went.

The Natural Entrance is thiiiis big!The trail into the cave is pretty steep but it is all down hill so as long as you have good shoes (and knees) it isn't too strenuous. There are bats and cave swallows that inhabit the sunlit zone of the cave so there is some smell of guano at first but this quickly goes away. We took our time and let the quicker visitors scoot past. Once you leave the Bat Cave and enter the Twilight Zone the cave temperature drops to the mid-50s with 95% humidity which feels great after leaving the desert above where it was in the high 80s. We didn't get to watch the bat flight today but that is something I would love to see on another trip! There are so many things to see in the cave, limestone is just amazing stuff when it comes to building these natural works of architecture. I like the way the path meanders with the natural flow of the cave and there are few places you see direct tunneling (dynamite drill hole scars).

Along this path you will see several lighted informational signs that give you the answers to this Earthcache (GC1HGBP).There are even places where the old wooden scaffolding can be seen from the 1920s when the caves were explored and the park was developed. Once we reached the bottom of the cave we walked the entire Great Room with even more formations to see. There is a Virtual Cache to be logged here if you follow the Great Room path accessible from either the Natural Entrance or the Elevator (GC8F21)

Finally we reached the elevator shaft that serves as the only exit to the cave, which descends more than 750 ft. We were disappointed to find that they seem to no longer serve Cave Burgers in the underground concession as the old weathered billboards on the way in to Carlsbad advertised, but we found them in the Visitor Center back at the surface and they were tasty after almost 3 miles of walking! We left the main part of the park and visited the much more serene Rattlesnake Springs. Despite the name it is an oasis in the desert that was bought by the Park Service to provide water for the Carlsbad Caverns VC which can be seen about 6 miles away on a ridge line. The lake here is full of minnows and we saw several Birders walking along the road when we drove back to it to get this Virtual cache (GC6D5C). Well worth the short drive from the busy main part of the park, it would be a great place for a picnic lunch.