Monday, April 10, 2017
When we first parked in New Mexico, the family quickly realized the variety of climates God created. Even though we were still south, it was no longer the humid region. This area was dramatically drier than where we came from only a few days earlier. This change presented yet another way for God to show variety in His creation. Before, the focus was on the plants and bodies of water. Now in New Mexico, the focus of beauty is on the colorful rock formations and how the creatures and plants adapted to this arid area. What a better way to begin this leg of our journey than to head underground into Carlsbad Caverns!
When I was a child, my family traveled to Carlsbad Caverns National Monument. My recollection of the massiveness of the caverns was one of the main reasons why we started this whole adventure. When the boys were young, I always paused whenever Carlsbad Caverns or caves were mentioned and tried to explain more. The impression never left me. Of course, I had never spent three hours in a cave so large that a restaurant operated in the middle. This was my chance to pass on the sense of wonder to my children.
Though the tour has massively changed from over 30 years ago, the impression hasn’t changed. Many years ago, we followed a guide that brought us into the Throne Room. Now, the tour is self-guided and the Throne Room still guided, though for an extra fee. We rented one audio player that was cued to various stopping points along the way. We all listened in on their extra information, or I relayed it to the family. This was not necessary though because most of the information also existed on plaques throughout the cave as well. Also instead of a full scale restaurant, little snacks and a souvenir shop stood in its place. The elevators are still used, however, 2-3 were broken at the time. With only one elevator in operation, the line to return was over an hour. Of course it would have taken just as long to walk back up the massive assent through the natural mouth of the cave as well. As a warning, the park ranger said it will continue to be like this for the next year and a half. But enough of the changes and more of the beauty of the experience!
We decided take the long descent through the natural mouth of the cave to enter. We watched as swallows circled overhead, building nests in the cave’s entrance. The pathway, though paved, turned to steeper angles as it made a switchbacked path through the twilight zone (the section between the daylight and natural darkness of the cave). The park intentionally lights the entrance as natural as possible so the millions of bats would not be disrupted in their patterns. While we were still able to identify where the path was, our eyes also had to adjust to the darkness as we entered. I appreciated the paved pathway as it gave good texture for our shoes to grip. Though, I was surprised to discover the paths were pretty much dry and the railings were not slimy damp like in other caves.
Continuing further down past the entrance, we learned about the early explorers and tourists who entered into the darkness. I appreciated having the dramatic lighting highlight the various formations. Stalagmites, Stalactites,and columns majestically stood or hung displaying their size. Delicate soda straws, thin drapery, and small water pools dotted the areas in between. Incredibly high ceilings and the dark, deep holes in the floor of the various rooms captured our imaginations as to how much further the cave extended. Different formations made us imagine the Chinese soldier statues, elephants, frogs, Easter Island heads, and perhaps a few of the relatives.
I was thankful we had the time to pause in each of the areas to let our imaginations run wild. Droves of people constantly rushed passed us with their loud voices echoing in the distance. Slow down, don’t miss what only time in the cave could bring to mind. Who would like to have been the first explorer to climb a several story rope, hoping the balloon was able to position it securely to the upper room? See the explorer swaying back and forth? He must have been getting tired as he coiled the rope around his legs as he made his way upward. Oh the exhilaration he must have had to have felt being the first to discover a whole different world through only the light of a dim candle or flashlight. Now, All that remained is the rope still dangling in the middle of the room.
Realizing the experience of being inside of a cave was one not to take for granted, we took our time slowly walking along and sitting in designated areas. We must have been down there for 4 to 5 hours. The boys still showed interest after that much time; I was happily surprised. I challenged them to point out something notable that was large, small, and unique. It turned the time into a quest to find the neatest formation of all. We also used the Junior Park Ranger booklet to assist my youngest in finding the answers to questions they asked. This also passed the time waiting in the elevator line as he finished the booklet then.
Once on top again, my youngest was able to become a Junior Park Ranger at yet another park. We then took a driving tour to pass the remaining hours away until dusk. We turned out onto an unpaved, rough loop highlighting other scenic areas outside the caverns. On our return we spotted two mule deer, one with an immense rack climbing the steep hillside.
As dusk approached, we returned to the entrance of the cave once more. They had plenty of seating for spectators to watch the bats exit for the night. We were instructed to remain completely quiet and not have any electronic gadget on. That meant no cell phones or cameras were to be on. Though we were unable to record their flight, the memory is imbedded into our minds forever.
I did not want to get the hopes up for the amount we would be seeing since it was only mid-March. The rangers said a few people have reported a couple bats, but staff members had not been out there yet to view them. He thought some bats might be around, but most probably had not returned from Mexico yet. I heard other migratory animals were returning early this year, so we decided to wait and see what we could.
At first a handful of bats circled upwards in a spiral. Then the floodgates seemed to open. They all followed the same flight pattern upwards creating a bat-looking tornado ascending into the sky. Grouping after grouping poured out. Each grouping headed their own direction into the night air. This kept up for at least 15 minutes before the momentum came to a stop. What a sight to behold!
I am amazed at how God placed such a sense of timing into the bats. Not only the migratory timing, but the sense to know when to exit the cave at dusk every night. They lived deep inside the cave where very little to no light goes. Also, the sunset changes every day. But amazingly right on schedule, we saw the swirling of bats as they left.
We had quite a day. I was content to have finally shown my boys how amazing Carlsbad Caverns were. They saw and experienced with their own eyes how expansive the place was. Books or explanations could never truly describe the place. They saw how God was able to form such imaginative shapes and keep their beauty hidden in darkness until these modern times. They also saw how God guided the timing of the bats, not only in the big scheme of life, but in the day to day changes as well, just like He does for us.
Until we meet again,