Tag Archives: Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks: Going Home

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Monday, November 19 dawned cool and cloudless in Carlsbad, New Mexico, and we were heading home. This was the twelfth and final day of my wonderful fortieth birthday trip to two National Parks. Although we were saying goodbye, we intended to make a quick stop at Guadalupe Mountains National Park as we departed.

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Carlsbad Caverns National Park: Walnut Canyon Desert Drive

Rattlesnake Canyon

After saying goodbye to our friends on Sunday morning, November 18, Sean, Phil, Adam, Sylvan, and I piled into the car and drove back over to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. We wanted to do some exploring aboveground along the 9.5-mile Walnut Canyon Desert Drive.

Aboveground, Carlsbad Caverns National Park is 46,766 acres of the low, northeastern portion of the Guadalupe Mountains. Here, the ridges are low enough that they lack the more heavily wooded zones of the southern edge of the range. The ridges and canyons exhibit more typical plant communities of the Chihuahuan Desert.

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Carlsbad Caverns National Park: Rattlesnake Springs

On Friday, November 16, after a full day of exploring the underground palaces of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, we decided to visit a very special aboveground part of the Park in our final hour of daylight: Rattlesnake Springs, the site of a lush oasis in the Chihuahuan Desert beneath the Guadalupe range. Rattlesnake Springs is a small, twenty-four acre unit of Carlsbad Caverns National Park purchased by the National Park Service in 1934 as a means to ensure a reliable water source for the development of the National Park. Because of its water and array of trees and shrubs, Rattlesnake Springs hosts 350 bird species, forty species of reptiles and amphibians, and thirty species of mammals. John had been monitoring the site’s bird lists on eBird and was keen to visit, so we decided to check it out on our way back to Carlsbad.

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Carlsbad Caverns National Park: The Natural Entrance and The Big Room

After finally coming together the day before as a group of eight for my birthday trip, on the morning of Friday, November 16, we split up with John watching the two children at the Carlsbad Caverns National Park Visitor Center while the rest of us went on the ranger-led King’s Palace Tour. After the tour, we collected the three who had stayed above ground and assembled in the cafeteria for lunch. Our plan for the afternoon was for all of us to descend into the cave, since children of any age could go in via the Natural Entrance (with adult supervision).

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Carlsbad Caverns National Park: The King’s Palace

As a deep dusk settled across the Chihuahuan Desert east of the Guadalupe Mountains on Thursday, November 15, we moved from the second to the third (and final) phase of the trip to celebrate my fortieth birthday. Sean and I were about half an hour ahead of Phil, Adam, and Sylvan on the National Parks Highway between Guadalupe Mountains National Park and the city of Carlsbad, New Mexico. On the way, we passed the phosphorescent light from the filling station in Whites City, the tiny boom town gateway to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Carlsbad Caverns would be the focus of the coming long weekend. Our ultimate destination was an AirB&B in a quiet neighborhood on the north side of Carlsbad, across the Pecos River from the hullabaloo of the main thoroughfare and its traffic jams of souped up pickups waiting to make a lefthand turn against the light into the Wallmart parking lot. As we entered Carlsbad from the south and slowed in five and ten degree increments as the speed limit signs instructed, we hung up with John and Catherine, who had just arrived at the AirB&B, maybe twenty minutes ahead of us.

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Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks: Planning

El Capitan, Guadalupe Mountains National Park

The Big Room, Carlsbad Caverns National Park

“Why?”

It was a fair question coming from a 60ish guy in Pine Springs Visitor Center of Guadalupe Mountains National Park in far West Texas. He was on a six-week road trip in the southwest and had just received his backcountry permit from the very pleasant Ranger Michael. The fellow’s hike was the reverse route of what Sean and I had completed a couple days earlier, and we were chatting about the route.

“You’re from Chicago and you decided to spend your 40th birthday here? Why?”

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