Tuesday, November 20, 2012

DAY 89- El Paso & Carlsbad Caverns...

The day didn't start out good.  My stomach rejected breakfast shortly after coming back up to the room.  I had a headache and I still had a 5 hour drive planned to get to my next hotel room for the night.  I swung by a nearby Wal-Mart for some Tums and then swung by a gas station where I amazingly paid less than $3 per gallon of gas.  I started the drive to El Paso, TX which is only about an hour’s drive southeast from Las Cruces. 

About 40 miles down the road the traffic started to pick up.  I entered into Texas with the sign “Drive Friendly the Texas Way”.  I was within a few miles of El Paso, TX.  The speed limit dropped from 75mph to 60mph.  I took the exit for the downtown area of El Paso.  I had about 1.5 hour to spend before I needed to be back on the road. 
Photos- Downtown El Paso.
I drove by the visitor’s center but didn’t see a place to park.  I drove around the block and managed to find the closest parking spot along the street.  The meter wasn’t taking any money and it only listed certain days for free.  I moved my car up two stalls and tried another meter; and found the same thing again.  I just figured I would take the chance of a ticket and walked to the visitor’s center.  I walked in and asked the gal at the center about the meter.  She said that she thought that it was free today and that if the meter wasn’t taking money that it probably was a free day.

I then told her that I only had short time to spend in El Paso and asked what she would recommend as a quick sightseeing thing in the area.  She suggested the historical tour of downtown.  I immediately crossed the street and started following the brochure.  But then I got side tracked and found myself about 2 blocks from the Mexican border and in a part of the downtown area that was filled with all kinds of shopping activity. 
Photo- Spanish section of downtown El Paso,
they've got Elvis inviting you to sell your gold!

It was like being in Mexico; everything was in Spanish and everyone was speaking Spanish.  Women had suitcases that they were pulling along with them as they were shopping.  I was trying to figure out if it was because they were buying so much that it was easier to get it home or if it was a case where they had walked over the border and were on their way to somewhere else for the night; naïve of me I know.  But it was all very interesting people watching and they didn’t even seem to mind or notice me walking along in the area.  There were some good prices on some of the stuff; I will say that.
Photo- Spanish section of El Paso's downtown, a hive of activity
with a Mexican singers moving along.

I walked down one side of the street and about half a block before I got to the border I turned around.    There was a solid line of cars with Mexican plates and some Texas plates too out on the road.  I walked back to the historical part of the downtown which seemed bland compared to what I had just seen.  I decided it was time to get back on the road.

Amid the El Paso traffic, I managed to find the exit I needed for the highway 62/ 180 that would take me to Carlsbad Caverns.  I drove east out of El Paso through a fair amount of heavy traffic.  Before I knew it, I was climbing out of the El Paso area and heading further east into a rocky layered terrain with curvy roads.  It looked like hills that had been lined with different colors; almost like sand art.  Then, I turned north after a while and got to a large flat area where there were mountains towering off in the distance.  The general direction of the road started towards those mountains and I kept on seeing a sign for a Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  Another national park?  I was already planning on going to Carlsbad Caverns National Park but I might be able to hit two in one day?  Bonus!  I thought to myself as I continued to drive north towards the mountains.
Photo- El Capitan in the Guadalope Mountains National Park in Texas.

Then as I got closer I noticed this amazing cliff face of one of the mountains.  This turned out to be the El Capitan and the Guadalupe peaks surrounding it.  It was amazing and I pulled over into a picnic parking area off to the side of the road to take a couple of photos.  Wow!  I drove a little bit further and around a bend where there were layered rock areas that the highway cut right through.  Shortly after that, I stopped at the visitor’s center of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. 

I talked to a gal behind the counter and it turned out that there were mainly just hiking trails in this national park.  It was all roads accessing trailheads from the outside of the park but there were no actual roads that went through the park area.  It was very non-developed and in the natural state of how it was years ago which was wonderful but bad for me when I just wanted a quick look through.  I had to make it to Carlsbad Caverns before the 3:30PM deadline.  Nope, I would have to save this park for another day in the future sometime.
Photo- The scenery climbing up on way to Carlsbad Cavern's Visitors Center.

I jumped back in my car and headed north.  About another 35 miles down the road I came to sign for the turn off for the Carlsbad Caverns.  Yes!  It was 2:40PM and I would arrive before the 3:30PM last chance to head into the caverns.  I quickly drove the last 7 miles up winding roads to the visitor’s center that is situated at the top of a mountain.  I changed shoes to something with a gripping sole because caves can be wet and slippery.  Then, I grabbed my National Parks Pass and headed in.  I got a ticket for the cave, paid for a recommended audio tour player, and got in line for the elevator.
Photo- The red number tells you how far down you are.
I couldn't pay much attention on the way down
but was thankful on the way up that the number was getting smaller!

The elevator goes 750 ft. down to the cave.  This I had not known ahead of time and that was a good thing.  I was a bit concerned about my still uneasy stomach and the elevator’s descent but my stomach was fine; it was my ears that kept popping as we went down in the elevator.  The elevator has red numbers that show every 50ft down or up inside.  It was a very smooth elevator ride.  We arrived at a small waiting room at the bottom with a line of people waiting to come up; and there are circular rotating push through doors on each side of the room.  They had to install these doors to help ensure the proper air circulation was maintained to help conserve the caverns.

The cavern was a very wet humid type of environment, and it was HUGE.  There was a map that showed a 1.2 mile walk along the outer edges of the “Big Room” part of the cave.  I started on the path; stopping and taking pictures and listening to the audio as I saw numbers to enter for it.  You could take pictures of the inside of the cave all you wanted to though they did ask that you be considerate of others while taking pictures.  I waited till a couple had some distance in front of me and then I played with several different settings on my camera to try to figure out what would work best.  There wasn’t much lighting and what there was of lighting was focused on playing up certain parts of the cave.  I wouldn’t know if any of these would turn out for sure until they were downloaded into my computer later. 
Photos- A few of the pictures that turned out of the interior of Carlsbad Caverns.

The audio went on to give a description of the size of the cave and it was giving a comparative of a couple of football fields that could be covered over with the estimated amount of water to fill the cavern.  The ceiling looked to be about 50 or 60 feet above me in some places and here I had been concerned about being claustrophobic in the cavern.  There was more than enough room.  I stayed on the well fenced path area and didn’t touch any of the insides of the cavern as instructed by the elevator attendant. 

I found it very interesting that we as visitors leave something behind that needs to be continually cleaned by national parks employees… It’s lint!  I thought it would be something on our shoes or perhaps Carbon dioxide that we left in the cave but lint?  They said that the environment was similar to being in a wet dryer and that is when the dryer forms/collects most of the lint in its cycle.  You learn something new every day!  I did manage to make the full 1.2 miles around the “Big Room” of the cavern 15 minutes before the last elevator heads up to the top the last time of the day. 

Next, I ventured into the gift shop and of course purchased a couple of postcards and a bumper sticker.  I looked at the shirts but none of them appealed to me; in fact, I thought some of them were rather creepy looking.  Also, I was a little unnerved because they had a mechanical bat toy flying around in the gift shop area.   I didn’t stay long and out onto the 7 mile descent I went to the main highway I had come on.  I still had another 54 miles to drive to get to Roswell where I staying for the night.  And thus, I was driving towards one of the premiere UFO Capitals of the world as the sun was setting.  I was really hoping that I didn’t get abducted along the way.


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