The day started out with much promise. On this road trip I have developed a love of motel waffles and a flippancy for speed limits that I’m sure will serve me well in life.

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Doing work.

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At 7:30am we drove out to Carlsbad Caverns once more. To descend into the cave you can either take the elevator (lame) or hike down the natural entrance (awesome). We obviously chose the latter. Winding 1.25 miles and descending 800 feet into the earth, the natural entrance is the perfect introduction to the cave. Dumbly enough, I didn’t expect it to be quite so cave-like. I guess I thought it would be all clean and easily traversed and well lit. Neatly maintained. But the park works hard to keep the cave atmosphere genuine. As we left the light of day and descended into the cave, the path was already steeper than was comfortable. We trudged along, our weight falling heavily onto our toes. Almost immediately the smell of the cave-swallows’ feces hit us, mixed with a sort of musty-ness of the cave. The air felt thicker, filled with moisture and dust. Luckily this effect either decreased as we continued to descend, or we just got used to it, because farther along it was unnoticeable. The temperature quickly dropped 20 degrees to a cool 55 fahrenheit, and the cave was dark. Not dim; very dark. Very hard to see. Certain formations were lit from below, but for the most part I was navigating by the gleam off our metal railing and the cool, wet feel of it in my hand .

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As we dropped steeply down, the view into the cavern was awe-inspiring. The size of it was arresting, as was the feeling of vertigo as I peered down into the enormous negative space. These pictures are misleading because I’ve lightened them so you can see the formations, but in real life it was mostly blackness, with the scattered lights on formations and reflection off pools of water dotting the path. In the quiet you could hear the drips of the cave.

Whale’s Mouth

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Pillars

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Looks like Casper to me.

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At the bottom of the natural entrance you can either continue exploring on your own or go to meet a ranger-lead tour. I had booked us a tour for the King’s Palace; it went through four chambers and descended to the lowest level of the cave open to the public, 830 feet underground. There are tours where you get to crawl through all sorts of crazy stuff and really adventure, but unfortunately those fill up so fast you have to book them way in advance. Next time I’d love to do that though.

http://www.nps.gov/cave/planyourvisit/feesandreservations.htm

Our ranger told us all about the cave and its exploration, the different formations, and the history of tourism in the cave. One thing I’ve learned on this trip is an appreciation for park rangers. All I’ve met have been so kind and friendly, informative and interesting. When you go to a national park, you should always take advantage of their guided tours, you’ll learn so much! It enhances the trip infinitely. In this tour our ranger turned out all the lights so we could see what total darkness really was. Obviously it’s pitch black, but the most off-putting thing for me was the lack of difference between having my eyes closed and open. I sat there just blinking and trying to sense some difference, but really I might as well just done away with eyelids for all the difference they were making.

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Jellyfish!

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These long sheets of rock hanging down made me think of wings. These ones looked like bat wing.

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This evoked the image of standing behind an angel and looking up at his robes and wing-tips.

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The cave was beautiful, but by the end of the tour we were shivering from the cold, slightly wet from being dripped upon, and happy to take the easy elevator route up to ground-level. I liked this art they had in the lobby.

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Back in the sunshine we warmed up and planned how to revive ourselves…

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The occasion called for some southern fried okra and coconut-meringue pie.

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We attacked the pie like ravenous wolves before remembering to properly document it. Hence the half-heartedly disguised fork marks.

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After this sustenance for our soul we were back on the road. Albuquerque was calling…

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