Up High, Down Low

July 16, 2017

In an earlier post, I (Steve) mentioned skipping over all of Texas. Well, we did pretty much hustle across Texas.  It's a wide state, at around 900 miles on Interstate-10. We stopped in Houston, San Antonio, and Fort Stockton. For most people, Fort Stockton is an overnight stop that's halfway between a couple of other places that you'd rather be. So most people stay one night, and given that it's west Texas, who can blame them?  We tend to stay at least two nights in any place, as that way we don't feel rushed. In Fort Stockton, that made us long-term residents.  But it was still just a stopover for us going from San Antonio to Carlsbad, NM.

Neither one of us had ever been to Carlsbad Caverns in southeastern New Mexico. I guess it was never on the way to any of the places that we were headed on vacation, nor worthy of being a destination all on its own. Since we were crossing Texas and going on to Arizona, this seemed like the perfect time to stop and see it. And we are glad that we did. But this part of the country is pretty bleak. You can see why people hustle across it. There isn't much in the way of nice parks to stay at near Carlsbad, so we stayed at Brantley Lake State Park. Here's a view of the lake from our site.

It wasn't bad, just not what we think of when we think of a park on a lake. But it was reasonably close (30 miles or so) to Carlsbad Caverns, so it made for a decent location for four nights. [Jane's note: Not so decent, however, that the rodents want to stay there. At least one set up (mercifully temporary) residence in our coach.]

The Caverns are located underground, so it's nice and cool down there--something like 55 degrees, which feels really good after the west Texas heat. You enter through the same cave opening that the bats use at night, and descend a series of switchbacks into the cave.

The cavern is huge. It just goes and goes, and you walk and walk and walk, all the while seeing amazing formations and huge rooms. As you can imagine, it's pretty hard to get good pictures in a cave, as they don't tend to be well lit, and it's really difficult to get any kind of size perspective. I took a lot of pics, but mostly they will serve to help us remember what we saw. I'll include a couple here to give you a bit of an idea.

At the end of your trip through the caverns, you are over 1,000 feet underground, but fortunately there is an elevator that takes you to the surface. If the elevator isn't working, due to wind, or maintenance issues, or power problems, then you just have to walk back out the way you came in. We were glad that the elevator was working, as it's a really long walk.

The other part of today's post involves another long walk: up Guadalupe Peak. Guadalupe Peak is the highest spot in Texas and is located in Guadalupe National Park. As it's just down the road from Carlsbad Caverns, you may as well visit both when you are in the area.

Guadalupe peak is 8,749 feet in elevation. So not really a tall mountain, by Rocky Mountain standards, but significantly higher than all the surrounding area, and it makes for a nice hike. The hike to the top is a fairly easy walk, but it does rise 3,000 vertical feet and is about four miles one-way. Along the way there are a few sections with significant exposure (places where you can fall a long way), but nothing technical.

At some point in our marriage, I had agreed to take Jane to the top of a mountain sometime. We had wanted to climb Mount Whitney in California when we lived there, but it just didn't work out. We also decided that the "mountains" in Acadia didn't count, as they are under 1,000 feet. But this one qualifies, I think. It's a little odd in that in addition to the normal summit survey marker, there's this metal pyramid monument. It's a monument to the pioneers who came this way, and it's brought to you by American Airlines!

The summit register is kept in an old ammo box, and here is Jane signing her first summit register.

 At the summit, we got chatting with a cool young couple who are taking a year away from their "regular" lives to travel the US in an RV. She's taking a sabbatical from work, and he's working from the road. It turned out that we were all going to the same RV park in Las Cruces next, so we were able to connect up again there, and we've been enjoying following their adventures on Facebook since then.

Here's the view from the top. You can see quite a long way, but remember, this is in west Texas so there's not a whole lot to be seen.

Here's a view of the exposed section. Jane finds that trail sections with large drop-offs tend to be powerful attractants, so she stays as close as she can to the inside wall. So far it seems to be working. 

Overall, we enjoyed Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Peak. Each one makes for an enjoyable day and the two parks are very different from each other. And they break up the monotony of crossing Texas, and makes for a nice stop before you get to Las Cruces, which I'll write about next.

~ Steve

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