Day Thirteen & Fourteen: UFOs, Carlsbad Caverns & bats galore

For the first time on our trip, we spent two nights in the same place. It was nice not having to pack and move everything we own for a day. 🙂

We spent those two nights in Roswell, New Mexico. If the name rings a bell, it’s probably because a UFO ostensibly crash landed just outside Roswell in 1947. Now, portions of the town play up the UFO angle, while other, more staid portions act like it never happened. I get the feeling the town would prefer to be known as the birthplace of rocket pioneer Robert Goddard, Sheriff Pat Garrett, (who killed Billie the Kid just up the road a piece) or John Denver.

Before we got to Roswell, though, we passed through the little town of Portales, New Mexico. There wasn’t much obviously notable about Portales, but I loved their welcome sign.

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I wondered if Dawn and I moved there if that would up the grouches to four or five, but I was wise enough to keep my mouth shut for once.

When we got to Roswell, the first place we went was the International UFO Museum and Research Center. That’s a pretty high-falutin’ name for a place that was a lot of fun. Yes, there are a few cheesy exhibits, but there’s also a lot of straightforward information – newspaper clippings, signed affidavits from the principals of the 1947 crash. If you wander through with an open mind, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that there was at least some kind of a coverup. Oh, then there’s the cheesy stuff:

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We also went to the Roswell Museum and Art Center. I forgot the camera in the car when we went into that museum, so no photographic evidence exists of our visit. It was much larger than I had anticipated, with an emphasis on Southwestern art. Like most museums, there were a few pieces I really liked and a whole bunch of stuff I didn’t get. If I look at a painting and think, “Hmmmm. Any one of the grandkids could have fingerpainted that,” then it’s probably not my thing.

Today, we hit the road and drove to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, just south of Carlsbad, New Mexico.

We got there about noon, intending to eat our picnic there at the park. There were only a couple of tables in the full glare of the New Mexico sun, though, so we sat in the Silver Bullet with the A/C on and ate our fried chicken. While we had lunch, we watched two brown hawks riding the wind currents over the hill that stretched out below us. I have no idea if they were hunting or just enjoying the freedom of flight, but they rode the wind currents with unmatched skill. In fact, in the 30 minutes we watched them, they never flapped their wings a single time.

We decided to walk down into the caverns via the natural entrance. If you’re considering a trip to Carlsbad, there are a few things you should know. Although it is cool down in the caverns (56 degrees) there is also 90% humidity. We knew it would be cool down below, so we brought our jackets from the car. We needn’t have bothered. The steep descent, combined with the high humidity meant that we sweated all the way down and never put our jackets on.

Another thing is that there is quite a smell when you first enter the cave. According to a ranger I spoke to later, the stench is caused by the guano of the cave sparrows who live inside. According to Dawn, it is pretty overwhelming. I will never know, as I breathed entirely through my mouth. Discretion is the better part of valor.

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Here’s one last thing you should know if you’re going to tackle Carlsbad: it’s quite a hike. Yes, lots of it is downhill, via switchback, but trying to descend slowly down can bring its own special stress on your muscles. Also, Dawn doesn’t love darkness and hates heights, so there were a few spots on the descent that were a challenge to her. In fact, on the trip down, I compared the trip to when we climbed up inside the Statue of Liberty. About halfway up Miss Liberty, we weren’t sure the whole thing was a good idea.

Then, we got to the bottom. There’s a temptation when you get to the bottom A sign gives you two option: turn left and get on the elevator, or turn right and take another mile and a half hike around the Big Room. I am guessing they call it the Big Room because the name Really Freaking Unbelievably Big Room was already taken. We resisted temptation to get right back on the elevator to the surface and took the hike around the Big Room. I am so glad we did. The trip around the Big Room was far and away the best part of the whole day. Here are a couple of shots we took there.

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Here’s a quick reminder of how easy we really have it today. This is a remainder ladder that they used to initially explore the cavern. Dawn ventured that if they had needed she or I to climb down this ladder, the caverns would still be unexplored today. She’s right.

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Here’s a shot of what is known as the Bottomless Pit. (Spoiler: it’s not.)

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And then, two hours and approximately four harrowing miles later, it was over. The elevator ride back to the surface was uneventful, but Dawn would not know. She did not open her eyes one time.

With our tour of the cavern behind us, the only thing left was to wait for dusk, when the Brazilian freetail bats come pouring out of the bat cave. After the long hike, we were more than happy to sit in the shade of a the comfortable amphitheater and wait. About half an hour before the bats appeared, a park ranger gave us another highly informative talk about the bats. I am thankful for all that I have learned from park rangers over the last week or so.

I don’t have any pictures of the bats for a very good reason. The rangers insist that all electronics – Go Pros, cell phones, video cameras – be turned completely off. It was an unusual experience in 2016 to sit with a large group of people, all of them living in the moment, none of them videoing or Facebook Live broadcasting the event. It was really nice.

The bats themselves were the stars of the show. There are several hundred thousand bats that are waiting to migrate to Mexico at the end of October, and they all come out of the cave at dusk every night. They emerge in a silent school, swirl together in a counterclockwise double helix to gain altitude, and take off on their nightly hunt. In the air, they are not nearly as graceful as the hawks we watched earlier in the day, but they will travel 30 miles or more to feed and drink before returning to the cave to sleep.

By the time we got out of the park, it was dark, we were bone-tired, and had lost our will to drive into the night. So, we returned to Carlsbad and will tackle Texas in the morning.

Cheers, and safe travels!

Shawn

12 comments

  1. You’re having such wonderful and varied experiences! I’m so glad you’re sharing them with us. As I mentioned a while back, I’ve been lucky enough to have visited all 50 states, mostly by camping across the country while staying in National Parks as a child. Bless my parents! One of my favorite parts has always been spending time with and learning from the Park Rangers. They’re darn amazing! Actually, my mom & dad’s plan after they retired was to sell their home, buy an RV, and be National Park Rangers. Unfortunately, they both died 20 years ago and never got to live out that dream. Continued safe travels to you both. Enjoy Texas! BTW, I had to look up the word guano. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve come to realize that Park Rangers are just teachers in hats. Sorry that your parents never got to fulfill their dream. That’s why we left the workaday world so early – so we can do this while we still can.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This day made me homesick. While I am a Washington native and am once again living in the Pacific Nothwest, I left a piece of my heart in New Mexico when we left two years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

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