Obligatory no-I’m-not-dead paragraph: Sorry to those that follow this blog in any respect. In the last few months, I’ve returned to America from South Korea, and my life has only recently started calming down (more or less) again. I did take some trips, to Malaysia, Shanghai, a brief layover in Hong Kong, and again to the Philippines, and although I took notes, I can’t promise I’ll be writing up any of those trips.
But for now I can give a small introduction to the American West. Now, if you know your American geography (which most of us don’t anyway, so no worries), you’ll know that ‘midwest’ is about Pennsylvania, and California/Oregon/Washington is ‘west coast’, but not ‘west’. In my understanding, ‘west’ is that geographical region not bordering the Pacific, and not the east coast, but too deserty to be good for growing corn or wheat.
However, one thing that the west does have is caves. At least two, probably more. Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located (surprise) just outside the town of Carlsbad, New Mexico, in the southeast corner of the state. The National Park- at least the part I saw- was pretty great. Super kid-friendly, for sure (all park rangers I interacted with, regardless of the proximity of children, spoke to me as if I was still counting my years in halves).
The cave has two public entrances, from what I understand: an elevator, and a long, winding, paved (the vast majority of the public cave has been made wheelchair-accessible) and hand-railed path that ‘takes about an hour to walk’. We decided to walk down- very long, very winding, and ever cooler as you descend. The caves themselves are really neat, to put it simply. The rangers there offer 4 (or 5?) different tours- the most accessible being the King’s Palace Tour, which is 90 minutes long, and we wound up in a group of at least 40 people. Nevertheless, the tour (although saturated with banter aimed at single-digit humans) was interesting, informative enough, and definitely showed off some of the nicer rooms in the caverns. This is not to say that the ‘big room’ (the ‘self-guided’ part, the public part of the cave) is not incredible- it most definitely is.
After the tour, we wound up back in the ‘rest area’, complete with elevator access, souvenir kiosks (shirts, hoodies, various forms of flashlights), and a snack area (bottled drinks, cheap hot chocolate and coffee, and adequate sandwiches). Sustenance acquired, we made our way to the elevator only to discover a line we were unwilling to wait in. So we walked all the way back up. Only, for some (idiotic?) reason, we decided to haul caboose. Made better time going up and out than getting down- good exercise!
Every evening May-October, depending on the stars, park guests can attend the ‘bat flight’ program. That is, you sit in a stone amphitheater just outside the entrance of the cave (same one you walked in, unless you took the elevator), and watch a bunch of bats take flight at dusk. It’s free, mostly (I think) because the bats cannot be guaranteed, for obvious reasons. We had a full moon and even if the flight trickled out, it was still pretty fantastic, if you like bats. The rangers hosting are pretty strict about the rules, so if you go, don’t plan on having any electronics on, or cranky kids waiting for bed. Silent viewing only.
That about sums up the caverns, but I’d like to throw out a quick word about the actual town of Carlsbad. As lovely and hospitable and helpful as the caves and the staff were, Carlsbad the city is NOT. Don’t expect anything if you’re staying in town (which you probably will be, since as most things here, there’s nothing else nearby). The hotel was overpriced for what it offered (but apparently that also has to do with oil the city’s producing at the moment), and going to eat revealed some of either the laziest and/or most incompetent staff I’ve ever personally encountered (and I’ve encountered a lot of food service staff). That said, good luck with the town. But enjoy the caves!