Carlsbad Caverns National Monument, NM

We aren’t huge fans of the camping options near Carlsbad Caverns, so we devised a strategy:  we’d spend one night at White’s City with full hookups ($33) and then haul the Airstream up to the parking lot of Carlsbad Caverns, about 6 miles away.  A quick look at Google Maps revealed that there was plenty of space in the lot for long rigs, and being a Monday we figured park visitation would be fairly low.

This worked out but the park was far from deserted.  We got one of the last long spaces in the RV area of the lot.  Tour buses had shown up early, disgorging dozens of seniors and possibly a school group or two.

Because we arrived only a few minutes before the 10 a.m. “Kings Palace Tour,” we had to skip hiking down the vast and dramatic Natural Entrance route.  This is the first time we’ve ever ridden the elevator down to the Big Room.  It’s an ear-popping experience equivalent to a high-speed elevator in a 75-story building.

The caverns stay at 56 degrees all the time, and it’s fairly humid.  It’s fine for an hour or so in almost any clothing, because you’re walking around, but even with a sweatshirt I always get cold after a couple of hours.  Sitting on the concrete benches speeds up the chill, too.  We tried to keep moving so we could stay long enough to see everything.  Volunteers were in the cave, meticulously cleaning lint that has accumulated from the 35 million people who have visited, and they were dressed sensibly for the “weather” inside.  You can see them in the picture above, working by the light of their headlamps.

Not many people choose to exit the cave through the Natural Entrance.  It’s a steep hike (on paved trails) about 1.3 miles long, ascending 750 feet.  In fact, we didn’t run into anyone heading the same direction except for a solo Park Ranger.  Halfway through the hike I finally warmed up enough to take off my sweatshirt.  With this route out, we figured our total walking distance for the day was about 4.0 miles, all underground.

Since Emma didn’t yet have a Junior Ranger badge from Carlsbad, we stopped for lunch and she worked on it at the table in the cafeteria.  This is the only Junior Ranger badge she’s earned on this trip, since we’ve uncharacteristically made very few stops at National Parks.

Our “America the Beautiful” pass expired in September too, so we just renewed it while at Carlsbad.  It’s still a great value for anyone who visits more than a couple of park sites each year.  Back home in Tucson it gets us free parking at Sabino Canyon, free access to the Catalina Highway overlooks and parking, and free access to Saguaro National Park.

Our plan from Carlsbad was to head down to I-10 (El Paso) and look for overnight camping near Las Cruces, but after all the underground hiking we were more inclined to take it easier and just crash somewhere nearby.  Forty miles away we arrived at Guadalupe National Park (Texas), which has a small campground, and pulled in to spend the night among the mountains.  More on that tomorrow.