Carlsbad Caverns National Park
National Park #2
Time spent: 4 hours
Today’s drive: negligible
Brake Light Status: off
From the NPS Website: High ancient sea ledges, deep rocky canyons, flowering cactus, and desert wildlife – treasures above the ground in the Chihuahuan Desert. Hidden beneath the surface are more than 119 caves – formed when sulfuric acid dissolved limestone leaving behind caverns of all sizes.
Also – the caves stay around 54 degrees, so jackets are recommended. Reservations are currently required.
We had both visited Carlsbad Caverns when we were younger. Steve was anxious to try some photography in the caverns. He brought his Nikon 800, a small tripod, and a small circle “selfie” light I had given him long ago. And, yes, photography is allowed on the self-tour, even flash photography.
First we walked down the equivalent of a 75 story building, (1.25 miles) then we did an additional 1.25 miles through the “Big Room” on the self-guided tour. It was astoundingly beautiful, and nearly devoid of people. Coming in the Natural entrance, down the extremely steep descent (I can only imagine what doing it on a skateboard would be like).
The deeper we went, the more amazing it got. After descending the path of the main entrance, we entered an area of shadows and greys, relying only on the sun shining down through the rocks. That slowly disappeared and small lights along the path became our guides. No stronger than the lights of a movie theater, but just enough as our eyes adjusted.
With every turn, we were confronted by amazing sights and vistas; immense caverns that seemed to go on forever. Deep chasms that seemed to descend forever into ominous darkness. The Park Service had spotlights positioned perfectly to highlight the incredible geologic formations, but they cast harsh shadows across rocks, inviting the mind to imagine forms of creatures lurking in the darkness, waiting…
At one point, it seemed like everything had frozen in time. The quiet was astounding, only the faint dripping sounds from the moisture falling from the stalactites. We imagined that we had gotten off the trail in the darkness, or that they had closed the caverns early, that we were stuck down there for who knows how long? To fend for ourselves, to try to survive! Then we heard some voices further up the trail. Steve swung his tripod like a club and said, “At least we won’t starve.”
Fortunately, all was well, and Steve didn’t have to go all Cro-Magnon to secure a food resource (and, besides, the distant voice turned out to be of a much bigger man than his voice indicated).
As to the photography, much like Steve, others were taking advantage of the lack of crowds. We saw, perhaps, ten or fifteen people total, all spread out, so far and few that it really felt deserted. Three of them were doing the photography thing.
Steve took a plethora of photos. Interestingly enough, though his Nikon 800 is his pro camera, he only used it for a few shots. Most of the photos here were taken with his phone! He just bought the new Samsung Ultra 21 specifically for the camera on it and it really exceeded his expectations. The night mode and Pro mode cut through the darkness, enhancing the available light and bringing out features we couldn’t make out with our own eyes. Even though they might appear well-lit, only a very few photos were done with a flash.
And with that, I am going to go silent now, much like the stillness in the caverns, and just let you look at these photos. And though Steve prides himself on his photography, he’ll be the first to tell you no photograph could ever capture the beauty and majesty of these caves.
To get the full effect of the photos below you’ll want to click on them and make them bigger. These are the same photos in the slide show above.