Well that was six dollars well spent.
Today I went to Carlsbad Caverns, which I’ve wanted to see ever since I first took up caving at the age of eleven. I still have the dog-eared book mum and dad bought me that revealed its existence. It seems like an awful long way to come just to see a cave, but boy was it worth it. Just the entrance passage alone was worth far more than six dollars.
There are two parts to the cave that you can visit unmolested by tour guides: the natural entrance route is supposed to take about an hour and wandering round the main chamber another hour (although there’s a shortcut in case you’re stupid). Over four hours after I entered I was still gasping out loud as I rounded every corner.
Most people go down a 750-foot elevator, straight from the visitor center to the in-cave restaurant and gift shop, presumably so as to avoid any sensation that they’ve actually descended deep into the bowels of the earth. But I chose to go down the natural entrance route, which is a mile of passages. Just the entrance alone is far bigger than any cave I’ve visited. It was so big I got the feeling it ought to be in Texas.
There were very few people going down this way so it was virtually silent, apart from the swifts reeling in the entrance. At one point I found myself stuck alongside a group from Mississippi, who (and I’m not kidding) insisted on saying things like “How d’yall think rock grows upwards like that? Don’t make no sense. Is that a tree inside it?”, but mercifully they took the shortcut to save themselves the mental torture of it all. Most of the time I could just sit and listen to the drips from the stalactites and the blood pounding round my arteries. There was absolutely no-one for half a mile in each direction. It was utterly serene.
The main chamber is like being in the middle of a Roger Dean painting. It’s impossible to get across the size of the place in a photograph, especially as my tripod is in Louisiana and nobody would stay still to act as scale. I thought it would be one large oval chamber and we’d have to shuffle round the edges oohing and ahing at twee little stal formations, but no Siree! The place is roughly cross-shaped, and at least a dozen times I rounded a corner expecting to be back where I started, only to discover that I’d hardly even begun to encompass it and there was a stalagmite the size of a small moonrocket staring back at me. To give you some idea, one of the rocks that had fallen from the roof, not of the main chamber but merely the entrance passage, weighed 22,000 tons. You could easily fit Wells Cathedral in the main chamber ten times over and still have room for the marketplace. It was BIG, I tell you.
I almost went out and started the whole tour again, but it was too late. So eventually I dived among the fat people who hadn’t dared to wander very far from the nearest burger and waited for the elevator, which has a display which counts in feet, not floors.
And finally, four hours and 380 photographs later, I emerged blinking into the 98-degree desert sunlight. I’d planned to go on the scenic loop road and do some hiking next, but after that anything else would have seemed an anticlimax, so I rushed straight back here to tell you all about it. Wish you were here.
Location: same as last night
Today’s sensations: Wow! Coo! Jeez! Complete serenity.