Sunday, August 31, 2008

Into the Depths. . .

. . . and so we descended.

This is a shot of our lantern tour group as we began our journey. You can see our ranger guide at the first of several stopping points where we paused for explanations and questions. The lanterns were lit at this point, since the next stop would be in darkness. And oh, yes, the 'lanterns' were single-candle affairs and not much by way of illumination until eyes were well-accustomed to the dark.

The bats use this entrance to the cave, but have chosen to confine themselves to a side chamber where we were not permitted to go. Seems that bat guano fumes are not healthy for humans. It is the decay of the accumulated guano that elevates the temperature in the nursery chamber to around 90 degrees F, which baby bats thrive in.
The hike downward into the cave was precipitous. I don't know the angle of descent, but it was difficult to remain in control and not just go tumbling forward. I had visions of myself rolling down the pathway like a human bowling ball, mowing down people left and right. A scary thought.

It got worse. Not only was the descent steep, but
it got rapidly darker. This photo was the last I was able to take without benefit of flash.
It was soon so dark I couldn't see the path in front of me and there were no handrails to guide by. Getting closer to a lantern-bearer made things a bit easier, then there were finally handrails to help 'steer' by.

On we went, for 1 1/4 miles, for a total descent of some 800+ feet. The fronts of my thighs ached for the next two days!

I cannot begin to describe the interior of this cave. It ought to be rated as one of the wonders of the world. Awesome, magnificent, incredible -- none of these words come close. Incomprehensible is the best way I can think of to describe something like this. We spent a good deal of time exploring the perimeter of the "Big Room," another hike of 1.6 miles. The camera flash was useless, but I was able to get a few video clips that don't show much by way of the grandeur of the space. I won't post any pix here; you'll just have to go there for yourself. It's well worth the trip.
Were it not for the elevators, I would still be in Carlsbad Cavern. No way could I have walked back up the way we came down!

We availed ourselves of the gift shop -- T shirts, post cards, and other small mementos of the trip -- and were on our merry way back into the sunshine. We headed south towards El Paso, along the Guadalupe Mountains and the Capitans, then into the rolling desert plains. I think I have some comprehension of "desolate." What a vast empty place! Mile after mile of -- nothing!
No trees, no mountains, no houses, no cars, not even road kill! Just the unrelenting scrubby desert and the road straight ahead to the horizon. After a hundred and however many miles of bleakness, we came into El Paso. A stop for gas and munchies, and we headed back to Las Cruces.

One more day of vacation left. I had Bead Store as top priority on the day's activities, so wasted no time. I was not disappointed. The women at Unravel had pointed me in the right direction. The bead store was quite marvelous and my flight carry-on gained a couple of pounds for the trip home.

We stopped by Unravel to say our goodbyes and thank the people who had given us so much great advice about the area. We found new and different folks there this time, but no less friendly!

Tuesday morning found us up early for the drive to El Paso and the flight back home.Sunrise over the Organ Mountains from the Lotsaburger parking lot.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Three Days Later . . .

On Friday we left town. No, not permanently, we'd be back. But there were other plans afoot.

The day was beautiful, and we headed east over the Organ Mountains.
Heading over the mountains brought us into the Tularosa Basin, an ancient lake bed which is the location of the world's largest gypsum desert, White Sands National Monument. You may also recognize the name as associated with the missle test range, but we didn't go there, just to the National Park area. The visitor center was only a teaser for what was in store. We passed on the opportunity to get saucers for sledding on the dunes, and opted to drive the scenic loop tour. We started out in fairly vegetated desert, but the further we went, the more vast the whiteness became. We were soon surrounded by dunes. Kids were indeed sledding (saucering?) the dunes. It was surreal to be enveloped by the whiteness and not have it be snow! It looked like snow, and the "feel" and soundlessness of driving on the sand-packed road was eerily similar, albeit 90+ degrees and without the slipperiness.

We were chagrined to learn that there would be a Full Moon Walking Tour that night. We'd be unable to attend because we had an early morning breakfast date miles away. After a brief but fascinating tour, we decided the White Sands deserved a future visit to explore more and perhaps the opportunity for a Full Moon Tour.
We pointed the car eastward again and headed for Alamogordo. We'd seen the curious phenomenon of the desert rainstorms, where you can watch the rain and lightning descending from a cloud not too far away while all around is sunshine and beautiful weather. As we headed into the mountains we were destined to experience one of these storms. It was fairly brief, but very intense, including a torrential downpour, lightning and thunder, and pea-size hail.
Once the rain subsided, we were treated to a pleasant drive into the mountains. After Alamogordo we headed south to Carlsbad and put up for a very brief night. We hit the sack early and got up at 3 a.m. for our breakfast rendezvous with the bats of Carlsbad Caverns. Yes, I said BATS! Thousands and thousands of them. I personally think bats are way cool and fascinating, though I realize not everyone shares this opinion.
At any rate, the event we were to attend was the 51st Annual Breakfast With the Bats. No, we didn't really eat with them. We went to Carlsbad Caverns, about 30 miles out of the town of Carlsbad, where we and a large number of fellow bat fanciers were treated to a humongous burrito breakfast feast by the park ranger staff at 4 a.m.
I was thinking about getting a second cup of coffee when a ranger came through the dining area announcing that the bats were arriving. We hastily scuttled the breakfast remains and filed quietly down the pathway to the Bat Amphitheater where we were seated on stone/concrete benches in the pre-dawn.
By way of explanation, the bats (Mexican Free-Tails) live in the cave, or at least one chamber of it, during the day and spend the summer nights foraging for insects, making baby bats, and doing whatever else it is that bats do. Winters find them migrating further south where they can find food; they don't hibernate, unlike some bat species. Now this is probably more than you care to know, so I'll cut it short. The public are allowed to view the bats from the amphitheater each evening as they leave the cave. But once a year, the park allows viewing of the bats as they return from the night's hunt and descend into the cave opening.
We were cautioned to be as quiet as possible and forbidden to use any electronic devices (cameras, phones, video cams, etc.) out of consieration for the bats and our fellow bat-viewers.
The dawn was perhaps a faint promise in the east when we became aware of the bats. One by one at first, and then in increasing numbers they flew over our heads and down into the mouth of the cave. As the sky lightened we could see their silhouettes as they flew. At my age, their echo-location sounds are inaudible, but the velvety rustle of their wings was fascinating. These bats are not of the tiny 6-inch varieties that populate my eastern habitat. No, their wingspan approaches 12 inches. A few low-flyers moved the air enough to be felt, but I must add that (for you bat-fearers out there) NOT A SINGLE BAT landed in anyone's hair or proved otherwise hostile!
As the dawn became more evident, we saw other sillhouettes in the sky, but these were leaving the cave. It seems that swallows have taken up residence in the rocky hollows near the mouth of the cave, and a strange sort of "shift change" manuever ensued as bats flew in and birds flew out, again I might add, without collisions.
We were among the first 150 people to arrive at the bat event, and were thus offered the opportunity for a free lantern tour of the cave. Our group headed in at 6:30; by this time all the bats were in and the sun was up. We descended into the mouth of the cave and down, down, down into the darkness, illuminated by the faint glow of a dozen lanterns spaced among about 75 of us.
I had a photo here, but it has disappeared and won't reload, so I suppose I shall have to continue in another post. Just as well; it's getting late. Another time. . .

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Month Passes . . .

Wow! Seems like I just can't catch up! We've been on vacation -- twice! The telling of these adventures will occupy more than one post, so I'd best get cracking before I forget too much stuff.
Meanwhile the Olympics go on -- and I'm distracted until the wee hours -- and morning comes too early.
So anyhow . . .
When our friends got home from their trip we exchanged catsitting duties and took off ourselves.
Our destination was Las Cruces, New Mexico. The trip was planned and reservations made last spring before airfares skyrocketed (did I just say that???), so it worked out pretty well. We've been considering relocating (after I retire) to an area with a lower cost of living, and Las Cruces is at the top of our list. 330 days of sunshine per year. Any biker can appreciate that! Hot? Well, yes, but as they say, it's a dry heat. I was amazed to escape the humidity of Tidewater Virginia and experience the desert air. Give me sunscreen, shades and my water bottle -- good to go!
Among our first stops were the local farmer's market where we had breakfast ( a burrito for me and huevos rancheros for John), replenished our dwindling stock of chili seasonings, found some really nice cabochons for my jewelry work, and heard these folks:
They really sounded better than this video indicates, though the guitar player did seem to be in his own zone from time to time. When I put a tip in their box they stopped to talk to me and proved to be quite fascinating.
While we were looking for the location of the market, we drove around the main section of downtown and finally parked in this lot. Imagine my surprise when I got out of the car and looked up at the building in front of me!
Mecca! I'd checked ravelry and googled for yarn shops in Las Cruces long before the trip, so I was delighted that I wouldn't have to search the town for Unraveled. I'd found it! After we cruised the market, we swung back around the corner to the courtyard door. The shop was open for business, and we went in. It didn't take long to discover I was among fellow ravelers! These folks were fantastic. We soon had a list of the best local eateries, complete with hand-drawn maps, and other see and do things, including the local BEAD store! I procured my daily dose of fiber (darn airline baggage restrictions!), exchanged ravelry info, and we were off and running. Here's a shot of the staff on duty that day. There are more of them, as I would find out on a return visit.
BTW, did you know that New Mexico is the only state that has U.S.A. on its license plates? Seems that a surprising number of people think that it's actually part of Mexico! I'd heard folks from Alaska and Hawaii remark that their states weren't always recognized as such, but at least New Mexico is part of the contiguous U.S.
Enough digression.
We thought it might be a good idea to get a feel for some of the local real estate in terms of price, location, and the like. We contacted a realtor who agreed to show us around with the understanding that we were NOT in the immediate market for a home, but would like to get an idea of what we could expect to find in our price range. We were pleased to see several places that we liked, and wished that circumstances permitted us to move immediately when we found one especially lovely home with a mountain view at an attractive price. I suppose there will be another in a few years when we are ready to make the move.
These explorations took us a couple of days, and as you will see, the adventure continues. Stay tuned. . .