Today we are visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park, which is about a thirty minute drive from our hotel in Carlsbad. We slept in a little and didn’t get on our way until just before 10:00. The area around the park is quite hilly compared with the flat land around Carlsbad. We checked into the visitor’s center and found out the elevators weren’t working so the only way into the Caverns is the long steep trail starting at the natural entrance. Val had some worries about how she would handle the long walk, but decided to go for it and off we went.
The park information says that it is a steep (20% grade) 750 foot descent into the cave, but the reality is, it was a 1.3 mile walk down to the Great Room, which is one of the main features of the cave. I believe the 750 feet must mean the vertical drop, not the actual distance. It was a steep walk down and it seemed like a lot longer than it was, but we made it. The formations aren’t quite as spectacular as some other caves we’ve been in, but the sheer size of the Great Room was very impressive. We took a walk around the outer edge of the Great Room before coming to a rest area with restrooms, seating and a snack bar; this is also where we would get on and off the elevators if they were working. Because the elevators were broken, there wasn’t much food available, but Val and I split a sandwich and rested a while before starting the trek back to the surface. Here are some of the pictures we took, but they really don't show the immensity of the caverns.
|The natural entrance and the beginning of the long walk down.|
Going up is easier on the legs and knees than going down, but the steep climb up is very tiring. They said the trail is a 20% grade, which didn’t sound too bad, but in practice it seemed pretty darn steep. It was a long slow climb to the top with quite a few stops to catch our breath and rest. There are benches spaced along the trail and they were well used. After about an hour’s walk we were back at the top, tired but very happy we made it. I was very proud of Val who despite a hip and knee replacement and arthritis did very well and made it without problems. Altogether today we walked close to four miles, most of it either going steeply up or down so we were pretty tired by the time we got back in the car.
|We start the long, steep trek back to the surface.|
|Daylight at last, but we still have quite a way to get to the surface.|
I did learn one thing today that I had been wondering about – what is the difference between a cave and a cavern? I asked a ranger and he said you can walk into a cave, but you have to use a rope or a ladder to get down into a cavern. We were able to walk into Carlsbad Caverns, but until a trail was built you had to use a rope to get into it so it is still called a cavern. Now I know.
We made the half hour drive back to the hotel and when we got out of the car we realized just how stiff and sore we were. For dinner we decided to just go down the street a little ways and have a sandwich at a deli. The rest of the evening was spent relaxing and resting our tired legs. Tomorrow we have a long drive to San Antonio, Texas where we will spend a couple of days.