Tag Archives: national park

Bat Central: Carlsbad Caverns

We left Tucson in mid March and headed back to our hometown in Georgia for the birth of our granddaughter.  On the way, we tried to take the time to visit some great places.  Our last stop in New Mexico was Carlsbad Caverns.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located in southeastern New Mexico. The primary attraction of the park is the show cave, Carlsbad Cavern, oh, and the bats.

Personally, I’m not a fan of caves.  I have claustrophobia and the thought of being hundreds of feet below ground makes my teeth hurt.

But Dave wanted to see this particular cavern because he had heard so much about it.  And we certainly couldn’t just drive right by without taking a look.

The entrance includes a large visitor center building that contains a cafeteria, interesting museum, gift shop, and two elevators that can take you down to the caverns below. 

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It is at this point that you have to make the big decision.  Do you want to hike down into the cavern on your own, or take the easy way out and grab the elevator?

We chose to hike down.  After all, how difficult could it be?  The ranger said that it would take several hours to hike the four mile path down into the caverns.  We would end up being 75 stories below ground.

At the entrance to the cave is a huge amphitheater, created for crowds to watch the evening show of up to 300,000 Mexican Free-tail bats as they emerge from the cave in a huge cloud of blackness.

Yes, seriously.  There were bats.

The path zig-zags down into the darkness below.  Ready for our new adventure, we started the hike.  Carlsbad Cavern is the fifth largest cavern in North America and the twenty-eighth largest in the world.  And as long as the bats minded their own businesses, we would be perfectly happy to take in the views!

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As we descended into the cave, it was amazing to look up at the pathway that we had already traveled.  The descent is steep, and honestly if you have bad knees, I wouldn’t recommend it.

It is a steady downward descent for 75 stories.  Craziness.

This passageway continues into narrower tunnels where the first extensive collections of stalagmites and stalactites are found, including named features such as Devils Spring, Queen’s Chamber, Kings Palace and the Boneyard.

Note that I am now carrying my jacket.  It is surprisingly humid in the caves.  I believe it was around 90%.  And warm.

The surroundings become steadily more scenic, with small side-caves filled with intricate rock forms.

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We stopped often to take photos and small breaks from the walk down. Unlike many caverns that I have visited, Carlsbad was not brightly lit with different colors.  They maintained the natural look with low lighting.

The lighting was just enough to enjoy the amazing scenery.  Once reaching the bottom of the shaft, you enter the huge Big Room.  It is here that you can further explore, visit an underground gift shop, and then make the next big decision.

Do you want to climb all the way back out or take the elevator up?

We chose the elevator.  You can feel free to call me a wimp.  LOL!  As for the caverns themselves, I highly recommend a visit!  Amazing rock formations, lots of history, and tons of bats!  You can’t go wrong there!

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A visit to White Sands National Monument

Well, lets backtrack a bit.  I want to tell you a bit about the sites that we were able to visit on our way from Tucson to Atlanta.  We took about three weeks to cross the country, which gave us time to do a few tourist things.  Our first major stop was the little town of Alamogordo, NM and White Sands National Monument.

Crossing into New Mexico from Arizona, we were not sure what to expect.  Arizona had been a big surprise.  Where we had expected nothing but desert, we found mountains, forests and amazing things to see and do.  New Mexico just might surprise us too!

White Sands National Monument is a unique experience.  There’s really no other place like it on the planet.  It’s the world’s largest gypsum dunefield, with miles and miles of stunning white landscape.

Surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides, the basin of white sand dunes is roughly 275 square miles.

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Driving into the park, you follow a road that increasing becomes packed sand.  With the constant movement of the dunes, this roadway needs to be plowed daily and driving along it, reminds me of a freshly plowed snow covered road.

Gypsum rarely occurs as sand because it is water-soluble. Normally, rain would dissolve the gypsum and carry it to the sea. Because this particular basin has no outlet to the sea, it traps dissolved gypsum from the surrounding mountains.  As the water sinks into the ground, it leaves crystals of gypsum.

It is hard in photos to give perspective of the size of this place.  In the photo above, Dave and I are standing on a dune looking down at our car below.

An interesting note:  White Sands National Monument is surrounded by the White Sands Missile Range, a military testing area for the U.S. Army.  Most of the dune field lies within that missile range. The world’s first atomic bomb was detonated at the Trinity test site in the missile range, just 65 miles north of White Sands National Monument in 1945.

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Because the park lies completely within the White Sands Missile Range, both the park and U.S. Route 70 between Las Cruces, New Mexico and Alamogordo are subject to closure for safety reasons when tests are conducted on the missile range.

Miles and miles of white sand.  But unlike actual quartz based sand crystals, gypsum does not get hot under the summer sun.  In fact, the dunes are great for downhill sledding along with hiking.  Just be sure that you follow the signs and bring plenty of water.

The desert can be a beautiful, yet deadly place.

High in the clouds: Cloudcroft, NM

Now lets take a look at where all that gypsum comes from!  Just a short drive in the other direction from Alamogordo, high up in the mountain range is the town of Cloudcroft.  Located at 8,600 feet above sea level, Cloudcroft is one the highest towns in the US.

Following the winding road to the top takes about 30 minutes, with lots of places to pull over and enjoy the vistas.  In the photo above, you can see White Sands National Monument in the distance.  The rock that Dave has his foot on is gypsum.  Here is where White Sands begins.

Back in the early 1900’s, Cloudcroft was a major tourist destination.  Due to the altitude, it was the perfect place to get away from the desert heat.  A rail line was created to bring those tourist up from Alamogordo.

Climbing from the valley into the mountains required numerous trestles, switchbacks and grades as steep as 6.4 percent.

With the arrival of US Route 82 to Cloudcroft around 1945, traffic on the railroad line diminished. Southern Pacific discontinued passenger service in 1938, and freight service in 1947; abandonment of the line came soon after in 1948.

The only evidence of the railroad line today is the remains of the trestle over Mexican Canyon, as seen above.

Our visit to New Mexico had just begun.  Our next stop along the way east would be Carlsbad Caverns.  We heard they had bats.  Can’t miss that!

Stay tuned!

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A Review of 2016 on the Road

We left Atlanta in April of 2015 for a life on the road.  Over the past nearly 2 years, we have enjoyed lots of great sights, met lots of fun people and experienced living in a 400 square foot “tiny home” with 2 dogs and one bathroom.

And this is just the beginning!

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Santa Fe, NM

We get asked a lot if we will ever settle down again in a regular home.  At this point in time, we have no plans for that.  We have absolutely no regrets.  We love our new roaming lifestyle and the fact that as we work-camp across the country, we get to actually experience each area as the locals do.

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Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, TX

With the year 2017 on the horizon, I wanted to do a review of the past year on the road along with some of the trials and tribulations that went along with it.

Many ask about our financials, so I will go into that a bit, along with a few things we have learned and experienced as we traveled this year.

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Total Mileage this year

We began our year working in St. Petersburg, FL at the St. Petersburg KOA.  Our job ended there near the end of March.  Our next job would begin around May 1 in Williams, AZ, but we needed to make an extended stop in Atlanta due to health issues with our dog, Ralph.

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Our route took us to Orlando, a short pit stop in our favorite campground on Tybee Island, then onto Atlanta for a total of 633 miles.

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We then traveled westward through Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and finally Williams, AZ, right near the Grand Canyon.  This was a total of  1,798 miles.

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Our job in Williams ended on October 31 and our job in Tucson began on November 15.  We took the long way with a detour through Laughlin, NV and Lake Havasu City, AZ, adding another     520 miles.

Grand total miles on the coach for 2016 was 2,951 miles.

Click here for more!

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A visit to Saguaro National Park

First things first: it’s pronounced “suh-wahr-oh.”  Do you know how many years I have mispronounced this cactus?  Yep, I am ridiculously southern and can’t seem to shake it.

Anyway, we decided to make the short drive out to Saguaro National Park to see what all the fuss was about.

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And there you have it.  Cactus as far as you can see.

Since 1933 this extraordinary giant cactus has been protected within Saguaro National Park. There are two sections of the park, one on the west side of Tucson and one on the east side.  Our visit this week was to the west.

The Sonoran Desert is one of the hottest and driest regions on the continent. In the summer, it is common for the temperatures to climb over 100 degrees and it gets less than 12 inches of rain in a typical year.

With that in mind, it was surprisingly lush and beautiful!

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The plants and animals are able to survive this environment with adaptations specially designed for desert survival.  At first glance, desert life seems rather unfriendly.

Talk about a bunch of defense mechanisms!  It would not be a great thing to trip and fall while hiking around this part of the country!

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But in an extreme environment such as this, I imagine a great defense is necessary.

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Even the local wildlife is extreme.  The Sonoran Desert is home to 18 species of rattlesnakes.  There are also poisonous Gila Monsters,  and Coyotes, and Javelinas.

Not a lot of friendly in this part of the country, that’s for sure.

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The star of the show is the Saguaro Cactus.  It is not only the state symbol of Arizona, but a universally recognized image of the Southwest!

It is the largest and slowest growing of all cacti.  The shorter ones to the left of me in the photo above are about 75 years old.  The one to the right of me could be as old as 200 years.

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These amazing cacti can weigh up to 8 tons, partly because of the large amount of water the stems can hold. Giant saguaro cacti, unique to the Sonoran Desert, sometimes reach a height of 50 feet.

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Northern Arizona and the Grand Canyon!

We are currently living and working at the Circle Pines KOA in Williams, AZ.  We arrived here about a month ago and were assigned a spot in the center of the campground.

I have to say that in our work camping career so far, this site is the best that we have had!  It includes trees, a nice size yard (even when campers are around us), a huge fire pit and lots of flat space to store the motorcycle!

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We love this laid back campground!  It is a lot smaller than Bar Harbor, and St. Petersburg.  With just 20 cabins, and about 150 pull through sites, it is not only pleasant to live here, but working behind the counter is that much easier.

We will be here until October 31, which gives us plenty of time to explore the area and take in all that we can.

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And Circle Pines also owns a Go Cart track, putting a little variety into our work routines!

So why did we choose northern Arizona for the summer?  Well, there were several reasons.  At about 7000 feet above sea level, this area of the country does not get extreme heat in the summer.  In fact, evenings are jacket weather!

But the biggest draw of the area has to be The Grand Canyon.  Since neither one of us had ever seen it before, this area of the country was on our “bucket list”.

The Grand Canyon National Park

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It is about a 60 mile drive from Williams to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  The drive is actually very interesting as you move from pine forests to dry desert land.   Keep an eye out for deer.  They are everywhere!

Along the way, you will find the occasional camper parked off the roadway.   You see in this area of the state, you can dry camp off road for as long as two weeks.

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Entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park is $30 per vehicle. Parking spaces are plentiful and even include areas for RVs and buses.

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Once parked, you can either hike along the rim trail, or take free shuttles to restaurants, stores and view points along the South Rim.

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The canyon itself is absolutely breathtaking.  No photos or words actually do it justice.  You have to see it for yourself to understand the magnitude of this amazing Natural Wonder.

The Grand Canyon is about 277 miles long. At its widest point it is 18 miles wide. The average width is a distance about 10 miles. The average depth is about 1 mile.

Click here for more photos and info on the Grand Canyon!

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