Carlsbad - Cavern & motels

Dec 10th, 2003, 06:44 PM
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Carlsbad - Cavern & motels

First - where to stay? Any particular motels to get/avoid? Is White's City that much closer (we want to see the bats emerge)? Second, if we want to do a guided/ranger tour in addition to seeing the main cave - what do you suggest? It can't be one of the strenuous 4 hour tours - our 10-year-old tires too easily. Also, Sitting Bull Falls sounds like a nice break - any opinions? We will be visiting in early June. Thanks.
Dec 10th, 2003, 06:55 PM
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 1,014
First off, your 10 year old will remember the trip to Carlsbad Caverns forever. It is such a great trip.

We were in a phase of our lives where we did not get reservations, and we wound up at a motel / trailer park for the night. They actually rented us a doublewide (with shag carpeting) and it worked out fairly well for a family. I guess it was quite a popular place, at least 10 years ago, because a class reunion was having a party there and people kept howling at the moon in the common area (at least we didn't think it was wolves)

If you happen to be driving there from eastern points, fill up your vehicle with gas before you head home. I was in a tightwad mood and thought I would find cheaper gas down the road. When we finally found a station my trip computer said I had 6 miles to go before running out of fuel. Talk about an oasis.
wsoxrebel is offline  
Dec 10th, 2003, 07:44 PM
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How long will you be there? That's the big question to answer. You will have a lot of ground to cover.

White City is at the base of the Guadalupe Mountains as you drive in from El Paso (which is how I'm assuming you will be arriving) -- the Caverns is at the top. The drive from Whites City to the Caverns takes about a half hour because it is a slow, winding, breathtaking meander of roads through the rocky wilderness. You might want to pull off and just take in the beauty of this drive -- but you won't want to hurry to the Caverns on this treacherous path.

Carlsbad is 30 minutes, at least, from Whites City. If you have a 10-year-old, he will be bored in Whites City -- there's more to do in Carlsbad but not much. There are many hotels on the highway as you drive from Whites City into Carlsbad. The most inclusive Carlsbad hotel -- complete with pool, one-bedroom suites, bar, and restaurant -- is Motel Stephens which is past the chain hotels as you enter the city (I think it's Canal Street that you'll be on). It is a very nice comfortable hotel that offers old-fashioned New Mexico hospitality.

The Pecos River runs through Carlsbad. Many years ago, the city built up a waterfront area on the river. There is a swimming area with a small steam-propelled boat that cruises a short distance down the river and back. Across the river from the parking area, via a rickety barrel-float bridge, there is a theme-village of sorts that once had kiddy rides and video games. I'm not sure what's happened with that. And along the river is a 1950s rocket-theme playground that has a really wonderful 20-foot tall rocket with a spiral that 10-year-olds can climb through (I've noticed this same structure in other western cities). There are picnic tables here.

When I was a child growing up in Carlsbad, the bats were an incredible sight, a large plume of fluttering flittering birds. Now they trickle out slowly, their numbers sadly reduced by the horrors of the pesticide DDT. But it is a peaceful occassion to rest your feet at the gaping mouth of the cave after a long walk through the caverns, listening to the ranger talk about the bats and their interesting habits and habitats.

I recall taking one of those lesser tours into a smaller cave, but I can't recall what it was called. You bring your own flashlight, and I recall the walk up and down to be slightly strenuous. The rangers can advise you what would be best for you and your 10-year-old.

Sitting Bull Falls is the only waterfall in New Mexico. After being abused by tourists for many years, the Park Service recently sunk some money into the park, and it is regaining some of the grandeur of its pre-Caverns days -- but you now have to pay (just how much, I don't recall -- maybe $5). In June, you will have a great time, especially if the area has had some rain. The falls drops about 80 feet (I'm guessing) and then pools in many tidal ponds at the bottom. You can walk along the streams and explore, then eat your picnic lunch (there is no food or drinks there, you'll have to bring your own).

There is also a terrific walk just before you reach the entrance to the Falls, called Last Chance Canyon -- it takes you into some of the prettiest canyon formations and grottoes I've ever seen. It takes at least an hour or two. If you decide to trek it, you will need to ask a ranger for information as to how long it takes and EXACTLY what the route is. New Mexico is not a place to venture lightly -- you get lost and you might not be found, ever! Remember to always take water, especially in the heat of June, and always bring your cell phone on hikes if you're inexperienced with the trek. The walks are not well marked and you can easily get lost (voice of experience speaking...).

The downside of Sitting Bull Falls is that it's an hour outside of Carlsbad on the other side of the city from where you'll enter from Whites City. Remember to gas up before you leave for Sitting Bull Falls -- there are no gas stations between CArlsbad and the Falls. The drive there is interesting, spotted with cattle farms, and some industry, but mostly barren desert.

The drive from El Paso is gorgeous, be sure to pause at El Capitan at the gap in the mountains.

While in Carlsbad, you can eat some fine Mexican food. The Cortez is an old standby, and the 10-year-old can have tacos or a hamburger. Larez is also good, although I think the food is better off the menu than on the buffet.

There is an old-west shoot-out dinner spot outside of town. I think the 10-year-old would like that a lot. Unfortunately, I can't remember the name of the place.

There is also a zoological park "up the hill", as the locals say, called CArlsbad Botanical Garden. It has buffalo, elk, a great prairie dog compound that the 10-year old will enjoy, and some interesting gardens. Unless you're lucky enough to see one in the wild, this could be your chance to see a real road-runner, albeit in a cage.

For a real thrill, take that same road back up the hill at night. You will be able to see the entire valley stretching out below you for miles and miles. And you will most likely scare away some local lovers parked along the edge, where there's a spot for cars.

Be sure to bring a sweater to the Caverns -- it can be chilly inside. Pay attention to the weather -- I was in Santa Fe once in August when some back-packers were stranded by a freak snow storm. Although this wouldn't happen in the Southern side of the state, New Mexico is anything but predictable.

I'll try to think if I've left anything out. Have a great trip to the Land of Enchantment.
Tandoori_Girl is offline  
Dec 11th, 2003, 07:05 AM
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wsoxrebel - what a great story - I'm still laughing! We will make reservations ahead of time! Tandoori-girl - lots of good information - thanks. I'm so used to straight, flat roads in Florida that the reminder of how long it takes to get somewhere was especially helpful. I had imagined 10 minutes to the Caverns from White's City and maybe 1/2 an hour to the falls. Actually, we will be driving down from Taos, stopping somewhere probably, and going through Roswell for the Alien Museum (our 16-year-old's request). Any suggestions for along that route? We will leave out of El Paso. We're not going to have a lot of time. I think we're planning to arrive about noon, spend the next day, and leave in time to get an early evening flight out of El Paso. Getting back to the Caverns/falls: if we leave the Caverns and head for the Falls, it sounds like an hour's drive to Carlsbad and another hour past that to the Falls - is that right? Coming in from the north, would we want to go to the Falls before going to Carlsbad - would that save any driving? I need to go by AAA to get a map today! On an earlier part of our trip, we will be driving (with stops) from the Grand Canyon to Albuquerque (with stops). I know we want to stop at the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest, and Acoma. Any other suggestions? Thanks
Dec 11th, 2003, 10:35 AM
Join Date: Dec 2003
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Yikes. YOu are in for a lot of driving. It's at least six hours from the south rim of the Grand Canyon to Albuquerque, I think. Then it's 2 hours from Alb/Taos. And I think it's at least four, maybe five hours from Taos to Roswell, then another hour to Carlsbad, even longer to Sitting Bull Falls. From a map I have it looks like you'll be close to Carlsbad Caverns at that point, but I've never gone that way to know if you can actually cut through the mountains, or if you'll have to double back and drive back to the main road (we're talking hour-and-half, at least to White's City). You definitely should contact the National Park Service at the Caverns and see what they say. It would certainly save you time to go that way but I'm not sure if you can.

If you take I-25 from Taos to Roswell, you'll go through Lincoln, which is a quaint western town. And you could stop in Riudosa, a mountain town w/ski resorts, art galleries, etc. But if you take the back roads, you'll go through much of nothing. Roswell has some nice art and history museums. I'm wondering about your schedule, if you will have time to do all you're planning. And I also wonder about that ten-year-old sitting in the back of the car this entire time, driving you crazy. Get a map and check it out, then re-post to the board. If you're not going until June, you have plenty of time to figure this out.
Tandoori_Girl is offline  
Dec 11th, 2003, 11:18 AM
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I'm short on time for a lengthy reply, but I do want to mention that we took an additional tour in addition to the main cave and it was WELL worth it! If you go on the website, you can check out the different tours. It was definitely not too strenuous. I have arthritis and I was fine. We were taken into one of the caves and the ranger had all of the lights extinguished. We've experienced that before, but it's always a remarkable sensation.
Keep in mind that you probably need to book your tour ahead of time. At least we did during the summer.
By the way, a question I've been curious about since we were there: We camped in the nearby campground and on the way back from the bat exodus and as we were driving towards our site a "creature" showed up in our headlights walking across the ground. It looked like a huge -- I mean huge -- spider. We were so shocked (we would be entering our tent moments from then) that we didn't think to take a picture. The legs were angled as if jointed and the body size was at least the size of a large fist. Any ideas? I checked out the books the next day in the bookstore, but I couldn't find anything.
EastEileen is offline  
Dec 11th, 2003, 01:38 PM
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There are many scorpions there which can grow to large sizes -- when walking, its tail is straight up in the air. More likely, it was the ever present tarantula, black, hairy, and very large, and that's what it sounds like to me. I probably would have slept in the car that night.
Tandoori_Girl is offline  
Dec 11th, 2003, 05:14 PM
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The last time I was there, about 2 years ago now, I priced the motel at White's City. Too expensive for me, so we went back into town and found a place at a conventional motel. I think we stayed at the Day's Inn.

There are a couple of guided side trips, at extra cost, which are fun. The one I remember the most was the Left Hand Tunnel tour. The group was restricted to about a dozen or so people. We were issued candle lanterns which was our light source until we reached the turn around point and retraced our steps. Then we could use conventinal flash lights. The darkness was impressive and we were able to pretend we were first timer explorers with minimal equipment.

It takes about 2 hours for the tour, but some of time is spent standing and listening to the ranger. The trail is fairly flat.

The King's Palace is also a fun one. It is about 90 minutes in length including commentary.

The bats should be back by the time you are there. They go to Mexico until late April or early May.

I would not do the White Giant because it is 4 hours in terms of time, and fairly demanding physically.

The lower cave tour is out, too for most children. Participants must be 12 or older.

I also suggest NOT taking the natural entrance walk. It is steeply downhill and you don't see much that is really spectacular until you reach the Big Room itself. The best formations are in the Big Room and the Kings Hall. But the Left Hand Tunnel tour is unique.

There is a lunch room and other facilities off to the side of the big room near the elevators.

I do suggest a flashlight with good batteries. I think at minimum you should have a 2 D cell flashlight. You can make good use of it when you start the return trek if you take the Left Hand Tunnel tour. (During the first half of the walk you use a candle lantern.)

For the big room, the trail is well lighted and the formations skillfully illuminated. But any time you are down in a cave, a flashlight might come in handy.
dixon is offline  
Dec 11th, 2003, 07:32 PM
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adeewebstr, have you looked into purchasing annual National Park Service passes? I wonder if it might save money since you are going to pay entrance fees to so many parks just on this trip. Any extra NPS visits in the next year would be gravy.
wsoxrebel is offline  
Dec 12th, 2003, 06:39 AM
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Thanks for all the information on the Caverns! No, I hadn't thought about a pass, but I will check that out. Tandoori_Girl: yes, it is a lot of driving, but we are stopping for a night both between the Grand Canyon and Albequerque and between Taos and Carlsbad, plus - except for those stops and the night in El Paso - we are staying at least two nights everywhere. Believe it or not, I have restrained my husband on the amount ground we are covering! He goes to NM/Arizona/Texas/eastern California on business (looking for sites for Beall's Outlets stores) and he has SO much he wants to show us. Another question, what about places to eat?
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