Thursday, March 10, 2011

Guadalupe Mountains National Park & Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Thur, March 3rd - Fri, March 4th

We did some hiking in the Guadalupe Mountains where there are 80 miles of hiking trails, and spent the night in the park campground. This is a soap tree yucca. It is a member of the lily family and it is New Mexico's state flower. I think we have seen millions of them the last few days driving from Arizona, thru New Mexico into Texas.

This is a cholla cactus in front of the remants of an old stage coach station. Guadalupe Peak is 8,749 feet. The mountains were a coral reef 265 million years ago and like swiss cheese, they have holes throughout.

These are mostly banana yuccas, so called because of the banana-like fruit they produce.

Friday we headed down the bat cave at Carlsbad. This is the seating in front of the cave where you can sit at sunset from May to October and watch as 300,000 to 1.8 million bats leave the cave. Now they have 100 to 200, but we didn't stay till sunset to see them.

We headed down the very steep paved trail into the cave. It is 1.25 miles down and takes an hour to hike the 750 feet (seventy five stories). You can take the elevator down, but we chose to hike it. You are not allowed to hike out. You have to take the elevator.

As we got down in a ways, we lost all natural light. I can't imagine what it must have been like for the first explorers who went in with candles, matches and lanterns.

The first young man, 16 years old, made a ladder out of sticks and barb wire to get down from one section of the cave to the next. His name was James White and he discovered the cave when he saw a cloud of bats leaving. He couldn't convince anyone else to go down with him, so he explored it by himself for some time, until he finally convinced a photographer to come down and take some pictures. Once the pictures got around, the people started coming.
Bat guano was mined and pulled out of the cave in a big barrel. When tourists first started coming, they were lowered down two at a time in the guano bucket for their tour. It was powered by a gas engine and the brake was merely a board jammed in the flywheel.

The cave temperature is 56 degrees year-round. We were there at 8:30 when they opened and did the hike down and the big room self-guided tour.
We went back to the camper for lunch and did the king's palace guided tour after lunch. We hiked six miles in the caves and we were here until closing at 5:00.

They also have several tours you can go on that require you to bring flashlights. Knee pads and gloves are recommended. Hard hats are furnished and you crawl thru some very tight spaces. Down at the bottom by the big room they have restrooms, gift shop and beverages for sale.

In 1931 they built two elevators. In 1955 they built two bigger and more modern elevators. Today there are four elevators that travel nine miles an hour making the trip in 54 seconds. They run an average of 23,000 miles every year.

There is a bigger cave system nearby that is not open to the public. It is only open to explorers and researches. So far they have explored 130 miles of caves there. Until recently it was the fifth largest cave system in the world. It is now sixth with the discovery of a larger one in Mexico.

We both thought the caverns were one of the best things we have ever done. They are really very cool.

More tomorrow,

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