Monday, July 03, 2023

Carlsbad & Caverns (June 5th and 6th, a guest post by Miriam)

After we got out of San Antonio, things got really boring. It was all just flat and desert-y. I don't remember a lot of Texas, as it all looked the same. I remember that we got of the car at least twice, once for a bathroom break, and once for lunch. I don't remember lunch at all.

During the bathroom break, we got out and walked around the gas station, and then stood next to a rock bed to let the little people play for a while. Phoebe loves rocks, so she was enjoying herself. She was picking up rocks saying "This? This?" She picked up a somewhat sizable rock and was struggling to hold it so we told her to put it down. She very obediently said: "Bup!" (which means yes), and then summoned all her strength and chucked it at Alex's head! Luckily, she is a baby and can't aim very well, but we were inches away from disaster!

When we got to New Mexico, everything looked the same as Texas, there were just more trains and oil/gas pumps out in the desert. There were still billboards though, for things that were 60 or more miles away.

We got to the hotel at a very reasonable time, around 5:30, so we had dinner, and got ready to go to the pool. I didn't, as I was going shopping for sandwich supplies for the next day with Grandpa, and it was a very good thing that I didn't, because when we got back, I went to the pool and it. was. disgusting. It smelled like cows, the water was tinged brown, there were multiple cigarette butts and bandaids, and it was just gross. I didn't get in, but all the kids did, so they all showered when we went back to our rooms.

The next morning, we all got up and packed up the car (as much as we could) and headed to breakfast. Then we piled in the car for a 30 minute drive to the actual Caverns. We got there at like, 9:00, which is half an hour earlier than our allotted entrance to the Caverns, so we were able to do some of the Junior Ranger booklets. We also enjoyed the view and spotted some wildlife.

[Mom edit: We were all blown away by how far we could see from up on the mountainside. We've been living in such a tree-filled area of the world that we're not even sure what a horizon looks like. This view took our breath away.]

The elevator shaft is equivalent to 75 stories, so our ears were popping like crazy. The elevator lobby ceiling (when we got down) was a part of the cave, and the hallway to the restrooms was a tunnel, surrounded by rock. The cavern was huge, about a mile (but that was just the great room). It took about an hour and a half to walk around the whole thing. Ben (or Rachel, we don't know who) made a funny joke. At the halfway point, there was an amphitheater thingy, with rows of rock carved out, so one of them said, "Do you know who performs here? A rock band!"

We saw some pretty cool rock formations while walking around, like popcorn and lily pads.

The bottomless pit was kind of disappointing. It was only 140 feet deep (needs pictures)

This cave was much nicer than the Lewis and Clark Caverns. We didn't have to slide down the cave on our stomachs, it was all paved and fenced in, and it was nice not having a tour guide so we could go at our own pace.

On the way back to the elevators, we saw some more cool-looking rock formations.

My favourite formation was probably the Silent Bell, it was really cool. I didn't get a good picture of it, but there is a gap between the rock and the ground, so it is essentially floating (I think it is connected to the ground at the back but it still looks like it is floating).

We also really liked the cave water. It was just so clear!

We said our final adieu's to the rock that looked like a grumpy old man (The Rock of Ages), and headed back up to the surface, our ears popping once more as we made our ascent.

When we got to the surface, Rachel, Mom, and I had to finish our Junior Ranger packets (because we had spent a lot of time helping the other kids). This Junior Ranger Program was super intense. There was an answer BINDER (yes, an entire binder for answers) for checking the books, so we were standing there, probably about 40 minutes, while the lady checked all our books, but we still got all the badges.

[Mom edit: I actually did the senior ranger badge; mine is a little metal lapel pin rather than one of these big wooden badges. Earning this badge was funny to me because deep inside the cave there is a solitary rope dangling from an upper room. Alexander asked me about it. Fortunately there was a sign nearby, so I helped him read the sign (there were a lot of signs to read and Alexander was worn out from reading so I read aloud to him to help move things along). We discovered that the rope had been put in place in 1985 by some explorers who used a helium balloon to lift the rope...somehow...and secure it...? Pretty impressive stuff. Alexander thought so, too.

"Wow!" he said.

And I thought he was just thinking, like me, that using a helium balloon to affix a rope to a ledge in a cave was kind of a wild thing to do. But no. He continued...

"That's an ancient rope!"

"It's not that old!" I said with a tinge of offense-taken. 

"It is," he assured me, taking my hand and pulling me along the path. "It's ancient."

I was born in 1985, so I definitely deserved the senior ranger badge (for my ancient status).]

We (finally) left the visitors center around 12:30, and it was a long ride to Flagstaff, but I think it was worth it going here.


Mom edit: It was definitely worth the visit—very cool place that wasn't even on my radar before Grandpa said he wanted to go. Although, Uncle Jacob went just a few weeks before we did and texted us some preview pictures. 

Speaking of pictures, all the pictures above were taken by Miriam. All the pictures below were taken by either Andrew or me or whoever happened to be holding our little point'n'shoot camera at the time... Explanations will be sparse because Miriam explained things rather well. So this will be considered supplementary viewing.

I thought the ocotillo plants were so interesting:

Here's everyone diligently working on their Junior Ranger booklets while we waited for our appointed time to enter the caverns:

And here are some pictures from inside the caverns:

We were all proud of Rachel for being so brave. She doesn't enjoy caves, although she's been a couple of other times (to Crystal Caverns in South Dakota and Lewis and Clark Caverns in Montanta). She was worried she'd have to slide around on the cave floor and sneak through tiny passages, like she'd had to do while on our tour at Lewis and Clark Caverns, but Carlsbad Caverns aren't like that at all. There's a nice paved path all around, very easy walking. Rachel had a much more relaxed time.

Note Grandpa and Zoë walking on the path beyond where Benjamin is standing. They almost blend in with the cave features! They were walking buddies for a lot of this trip.

This ladder was the original ladder used by Jim White to explore the cave in 1898. It's made of wire (from fencing) and sticks. That kid had some nerve using a ladder like that to explore a deep, dark cave full of unknown dangers.

Miriam did not mention that we all took a drink from the drinking fountain and used the toilets that were just...right there in the cave with us. At one point they (the powers that be) were considering blasting a road through the caverns so that cars could do a driving just wild! I'm glad they didn't finish that project because that surely would have destroyed a lot of the beautiful caves. Instead they have the elevator shaft (which is handy because I was expecting a bit of a hike, given my previous experience with caves) and the restrooms and a gift shop. It's kind of strange seeing infrastructure 700 feet underground's there in Carlsbad if you want to see it!

Also, since I'm thinking about other times I've visited caves, here's a story about a time that I visited Mt. Timpanogos Caves. We really wanted to go there this trip, but the path was closed due to all the snow that Utah got this year (some of the path had been broken up, etc. etc). The park actually reopened the day before we left, I think, but we just didn't have time to go. And...who knows what shoes we would have worn, since you're not supposed to wear shoes/clothes that have been inside other caves, due to concerns over white-nose syndrome (in bats).

We all had multiple shoes with us...but not all of them were hiking-up-a-mountain-and-going-spelunking worthy. 

Anyway, we didn't get to visit Timpanogos Caves this visit, but it's on our list for future visits. 

But I went on a trip my family took to Utah when I was little. I can't remember how old I was, precisely. I do know precisely what I was wearing (except for my shoes; those I can't remember). 

I had on my pink and black outfit—it was a combination of stars and stripes, but certainly not in a "patriotic" way. On the one hand, it was pink and black. On the other hand, I was visiting from Canada. Shorts and a t-shirt. I think the shorts were stripey and the shirt had black stars on a pink background. And we're talking hot pink, here. This was the nineties!

The cave was going to be cold, so I had on a white knit sweater that my cousin Jenna had passed on to me. My Auntie Arlene had purchased it across the border in Mexico (because my Auntie Arlene lived in Le Mesa, California, and frequently went to Mexico). I loved that sweater. It was so soft and comfy. 

Zoë still wears it, in fact! And Miriam wore it for years before her. 

Rachel was always too cool to wear it. 

Anyway, I had on that and a white and pink striped headband. It was a wide, stretchy fabric headband that honestly covered quite a bit of my head. 

The cave tour was interesting, I'm sure, but the part that I remember the most is that our guide told us that getting hit with a droplet of water from a stalagmite was good luck. All around me people were exclaiming when they got hit with a drop. 

I was not getting hit by anything and as we neared the end of the tour, I was getting pretty worried about my luck quota.

By the time we left the cave I was in tears because I hadn't been hit by a single drop of cave water and, therefore, the world was essentially over (obviously). 

Our tour guide acted quickly and pointed out some wet splotches on my headband. I had been blessed by cave droplets, after all! I just hadn't felt them because my they'd landed on my headband.

Retrospectively, I don't know whether that was true—the guide could have been lying—but it doesn't really matter. My young self gobbled up that intel and I was overjoyed to have been dripped on by a cave. Because now I was lucky!

Who all was on that trip? I feel like it must have happened when we still lived in BC (given the outfit that I remember that was really getting to small for me by the time we moved to Alberta), so I must have been 8 years old or younger (I'm leaning toward younger). In my memory, Auntie Arlene was there, but it's possible I inserted her into the memory because I always admired her so much. 

Uncle Bruce's family features in my memories of this trip as well (which is fair because they lived in Orem at the time...I'm pretty sure), but I can't remember if they went to the caves with us. 

Anyway, that's it—my earliest cave memory!

The point of sharing that story was that I told the kids this story while we were walking around inside Carlsbad Caverns because Rachel kept screeching every time a drop of water landed on her—and water was landing on her a lot! (I only got hit with one good drop, which took me by surprise because it splattered right on my glasses). 

Zoë got it into her head that getting hit with a drop of cave water was lucky and, of course, she wasn't having any luck getting hit by cave water! So we had to stand around in the drippy spots waiting for her to get splashed. It probably would have helped matters if she had taken her hood off earlier; she walked around with her hood up for quite a while. She did finally get hit with a droplet, however, and that was one of her favourite parts of the day.

Incidentally, she was wearing a pink sweater with stars on it (though it was baby pink and gold rather than hot pink and black, because this is the 2020s (though to be fair that sweater was Miriam's first and is circa 2018))!

It's a good thing we all collected so much luck in the cave because we'd need it later on (that's a bit of foreshadowing for you).

And, just for kicks and giggles, here's a link to the wonderful story about Andrew hiking the Timpanogos Cave trail with his family and trying to keep them all honest by insisting that no one drink any water on the way up. After all, the sign said, "NO DRINKING WATER ON TRAIL" (meaning, of course, that there was no drinking water available along the trail and that you should absolutely pack your own...not that you shouldn't drink while hiking).

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