We enjoyed this Junior Ranger program; it had totally age-appropriate activities, more activities for each child, depending on age. This made it very do-able for all of the children, without too much assistance. We had completed a large part of it prior to getting to the Park, for which I was very grateful, it would have been more of a challenge if we’d had to do it all while we were there.
On the drive to the Caverns, a coyote crossed the road in front of us; it was great to really see one up reasonably close in the daylight. As we passed, it just stood on the side of the road, looking at us. Becca spotted a raccoon or ringtail on the way up the mountain too, we love all the wildlife we’re able to see on this journey.
Cute little 'Valentine' prickly pear cactus on the way into the Caverns!
We decided to walk all the way into the caverns from the Natural Entrance, this is a mile of steep switch-backs into the depths of darkness; really took its toll on my, basketball-hammered, knees! In the warmer months from May-October, bats reside in one of the upper caves (which has so much guano – bat poop – that at last measure, it topped out at about 40ft!) and fly out every evening in a massive cloud of blackness. One of the rangers told us that, last year, an owl happened to be by the entrance when they came out and grabbed and ate 9 of them as they flew past! It’s a spectacular sight apparently, shame we weren’t here in the summer – another time…. Dave did manage to get this picture from one of their display photos though, which is quite impressive!
On the way down, a ranger was highlighting an area of dripping water. He explained the water comes down and, as the moisture is evaporated, the calcite left behind is what forms the stalagmites, which grow about an inch every year. There is also another formation here called popcorn, this is formed thanks to the breezes which flow through to and from the entrance, keeping the temperature down below at a pretty constant 56 degrees.
We also learned about soda straws, which hung all over the caverns from the ceiling. These may eventually develop into stalactites but initially are very thin formations, which are hollow in the center. As we made our way further down, we passed through the ‘twilight zone’, an area that is almost completely dark but still has a very slight amount of daylight from the cavern entrance. Of course, the Caverns now cater to tourists so there is enough light for us to admire the various spectacular formations.
The walk around the Big Room was interesting; we continued to learn about how the caverns were formed, how they were discovered and how everything has developed. When people first explored Carlsbad Caverns, there were a great many steps and it would take 5 hours to look around! We were lucky enough to be able to take the elevator back up to the top, in fact, that is the only option now. A huge amount of dynamite was blasted down to create the elevator shaft.
One of the interesting parts of the cavern base is the Bottomless Pit. When it was initially discovered, flashlights weren’t strong enough to reach the bottom so they truly believed they could never reach the base of the pit. However, more recently the bottom has been located at about 750ft down, of course, we couldn’t actually see it.
After the children received their patches and were sworn in as Rangers for the second time in a week, we drove to the scenic loop. This was a 9 mile dirt track around the mountains with some fantastic views. We stopped at Rattlesnake Overlook and wondered over to the edge of the ridge, it was beautiful. We were being careful where we put our feet; evidently it’s not referred to Rattlesnake Trail for no reason! Thankfully, we didn’t see any snakes, Caitlin was quite nervous.
Once again, Nate fell right to sleep; he seems to enjoy these incredibly bumpy roads. We’re also continuing to struggle with the time change. We’re not managing early enough bedtimes, yet the children are all waking up as soon as Dave is up to start working, so by mid-afternoon, everyone’s ready to crash.
States visited: 49!
visited 49 states (98%)
Create your own visited map of The United States
Miles driven so far -
LOOP 1 (Aug 2009 - Aug 2010): 29,000
LOOP 2 (May - August 2012): 10,800
Highest altitude with camper: 11,158ft (I-70, CO)