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Trip Report Enchanted by New Mexico: Carlsbad Caverns, NM and Guadalupe Mountains, TX

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Wow! I just got back from a trip to the top of the rugged yet beautiful Guadalupe Mountains, the highest peak in Texas, and the cool and mysterious, yet gigantic Carlsbad Caverns of New Mexico.

I don't know what it is about the Desert Southwest, but I find it a magical, yet mystical place where dreams come true! Needless to say, New Mexico is now high on my list of travel destinations in the future, and I've traveled all around the globe from Scotland to Australia... I literally have left my heart and soul in the craggy terrain of the Chihuahuan Desert. :)

My girlfriend and I started out on the long and what we thought would be a laborious drive from Austin to Carlsbad. The freshness of our relationship and the "big sky" views of the country made the drive seem that much better.

The scenery gradually changed from Hill Country oak and cedar trees to scrubland. First, the trees became more stunted and shorter. Then, the oak trees all but disappeared and all that were left were very small cedar "bushes". Finally, the desert won out and cactus and agave plants won over the landscape.

We got in late to Carlsbad Caverns and checked into Comfort Inn. I had gotten 60% off the rack rate, so even though it wasn't the "best" hotel in town, the price was right. There is an indoor pool and hot tub, but we never ended up using that. The breakfast had waffles, hard boiled eggs, pastries and breads, and various coffees and juices. Enough for us.

One important point to note is that restaurants in Carlsbad close at 8PM (yes, that's 8PM) on weekdays. Coming from Austin, where restaurants are open much later, that was quite an adjustment. On the weekends, restaurants stay open a little later in Carlsbad, until 9PM (yippee). So, unless you want to eat at a chain restaurant (we ended up at Chili's the first night because everything was closed), you may want to plan for that.

The weather was absolutely gorgeous. Extremely dry, with warm days and cool nights. After breakfast the first morning, we headed from Carlsbad to the Guadalupe Mountains. It took around an hour to get from Carlsbad to the National Park entrance at the Guadalupe Mountains.

Compared to other National Parks (and even to Carlsbad Caverns), Guadalupe National Park is fairly empty. That's worked out great for us, as we hoped we'd have the mountain all to ourselves. We found out there were some people on the mountain, but not many.

They say it takes around 4 hours to climb 3000 feet from the base elevation at around 5000 feet to 8,749 feet, the highest peak in Texas, and then 2 hours to descend. It took us slightly less than that, 3.5 hours to ascend and 1.5 hours to descend. When you get to the top, there is a monument and an ammo box that contains a signature book. We spent around a half hour up there, reading the various entries from places as far away as Iran to as close by as the nearest town. We then left our own signature and quotation in the book. Who said there weren't any mountains in Texas!

The next day, we woke up early to take the 9AM Left Tunnel Tour. Unfortunately, we didn't realize that all tours meet down at the rest area 755 feet below the surface, and the tours leave promptly, so you need to get to the Visitor's Center around 30 minutes prior to to the tour so you can be at the Tour around 15 minutes prior. I hope this information helps for people interested in doing some guided tours.

We walked to the Natural Entrance and then down into the cave. You start out in 90 degree sun and then it gradually gets cooler as you descend, until it's 56 degrees once you're a few hundred feet beneath the surface. One warning, you can really smell the bats at the beginning of the cave. However, as you descend into the land of forever darkness, it is beyond the reach of the bats and there is no smell anymore.

Nothing can prepare you for the size and scope of the caverns. As you descend into the cave, you keep thinking that you must be near the bottom, but then you realize you're nowhere near. There are giant rooms the size of cathedrals that you keep passing through. It feels like another planet, otherwordly.

<More to come>

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