Our drive on FM285 from Pecos, Texas to Carlsbad, New Mexico was the worst stretch of road we’ve ever driven, including even the worst that Alaska and Canada had to offer. We urge folks with RV’s to avoid this filthy, dusty and dangerous road with no place to pull over. Truck traffic is extremely heavy, and there are no attempts to repair the massive potholes – some stretching all the way across the road cannot be avoided. We ran through one of them, and even though we had slowed down considerably we incurred irreparable damage to the tow bar receiver that held our bikes on their rack.
Once at our campground, Steve examined the damage and added up the costs for a new receiver and to get our under-maintained and underused bikes repaired. With a heavy heart I agreed that we would scrap the receiver and donate the bikes to Goodwill. We may get new ones at some point, perhaps after we settle down a bit when our current journey ends 😦
It was a sad day for me. The only positive thing that came out of our stop in Pecos, TX was that I was pronounced A-OK by my doctor there, who happened to be from the Philippines. And I couldn’t help but smile when this cute little Scaled Quail trotted along next to our rig and posed for me. Otherwise, we found Pecos to be a dusty and depressing little oil town that we were happy to leave after a single night at a noisy and dirty RV park.
Our spirits rose at our first stop in New Mexico, at Carlsbad. Like most other folks traveling through, our main goal was to explore the Carlsbad Caverns. We had missed them the last time we were in the area in February 2013, due to dangerous winds on the pass that we would have had to drive over from Alamogordo to the caverns.
Those of you who have been following us since 2012 know that we love to explore natural underground wonders. For new readers who are interested in our previous cave adventures, check out the links below. Caves and caverns usually share some common features, yet each of them has their own unique formations. Here are the caves and caverns we explored while in these areas:
- Oregon National Cave Monument in Oregon
- Lava Beds National Monument in California
- Kartchner Caverns in Arizona
- Ruby Falls in Tennesse
- Mammoth Cave in Kentucky
- The amazing subterranean underground river in the Philippines
Carlsbad Caverns in the Chihuahuan Desert are one of the largest, deepest and most decorated caverns in the world. There are about 118 caves with over 180 total miles of known passages and rooms. There were eight tours available when we were there, and we chose three; the Natural Entrance 1.25 mi. self-guided route, the Big Room 1.25 mi. self-guided route and the one-mile King’s Palace guided tour.
At the mouth of the natural opening is the Bat Amphitheater, where an outflight of a large colony of Brazilian Free-tailed bats can be observed in the evenings during the months of May-October. Steve loves watching bats and is already thinking of coming back here just to see these spectacular outflights.
But before we could even go inside, a Park Ranger thoroughly cleaned our shoes. We had visited other caves in the east where the White Nose Syndrome has killed millions of bats. Even though we weren’t sure whether we had worn these shoes in any of those caves, we didn’t want to take any chances. Plus, we had a nice chat with the ranger and our shoes looked fantastic when he was done!
Finally, we were off to the huge cavern opening.
The natural entrance route is a paved downhill hike of about 800 ft. for 1.25 miles in semi-darkness. But in 1898, Jim White entered this cave for the first time using a ladder of sticks and wire, and I thanked him for paving the way for us to see the splendor below.
Along the way were several plaques describing things around us, but what really caught our attention was a huge boulder in the center of the descending walkway. It turned out to be a 200,000-ton iceberg rock that fell down from the cave wall. We walked around it and tried to imagine how it would have sounded and felt when this colossus broke loose. Since I could not capture its enormity, here’s a snapshot of the plaque about it:
At the end of this strenuous route and at 800 ft. below the surface, we had our first experience of seeing an underground rest area/restrooms/cafe and gift shop. That’s how huge it is here. It’s also where the elevator stops for those in wheelchairs or who don’t want to make the hike down.
We took a break and waited for our next tour, which was the guided King’s Palace tour.
Imagine yourself in an ornately decorated King’s palace, or a Queen’s bedroom. Those are the names given to two of the huge caverns we saw during this one-mile walk. A total of four naturally-decorated chambers with a fabulous variety of cave decorations unfolded before us.
From this tour we learned about the history of the caverns, and it really made us think about and appreciate more the wonders of the cavern and its past. We were given plenty of time to snap pictures, but of the many I took in the darkness of this tour, only a couple came out good enough to share. One of them is of an ancient bat, entombed in calcite on the floor of the cavern:
After taking another break we tackled the enormous Big Room. Now this chamber is really something, and the incredible variety of formations we saw here blew our minds. The chamber is really a massive natural limestone cave chamber which is larger than six football fields and could house the Notre Dame Cathedral. Pause for a moment and imagine that!
The walk around this chamber is about 1.25 miles long and could take hours for someone marveling at the unending collection of dramatic and gigantic cave formations. Stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, and columns were just a few of the wonders we saw. It’s so much bigger and unlike anything else we’ve seen that the whole experience seemed quite surreal.
Again, due to the low lighting I managed to capture only a few of the many amazing formations on this tour, some with the help of other visitors who had brought spotlights with them.
The wonders we saw underground at Carlsbad Caverns can not be captured in photos, you have to go there and experience it yourself. Because of its high ceilings, I think claustrophobia would not be an issue for most folks, and the path and formations were backlighted beautifully to lead the way.
These are the “baddest” caverns we’ve seen in the U.S., and we highly recommend them to anyone traveling in the area.
Brantley Lake State Park
On another day, we drove to nearby Brantley Lake State Park to do even more hiking. We followed a trail from the Visitor’s Center to the park’s campground, an easy 3-mile round-trip trek.
As you can see, I couldn’t stop myself from touching the tiny and beautiful wildflowers along the route 🙂
On our final night here at the Carlsbad KOA, (Steve’s review here) the moon was full and I thought the windmill in the foreground was a nice feature to add:
Sounds like a terrible drive, one for the record books! Sorry to read you decided to give up the bikes. We too, do not use our bikes as much as we anticipated.
Weren;t those scaled quail neat! I had never seen them before our stay at Brantley Lake.
Nice write up on the caverns, they really were incredible.
It is so hard, if not impossible, to capture good photos inside CC. People can apply for a photography permit at certain times to set up properly with a tripod, etc. I came close a couple of years ago to doing that and may still give it a try in the future at some point. Curious as what you thought of Brantley Lake a bit more, as we have considered camping there and going to the caverns again. We have always just made a day trip of it but have never stayed until evening to watch the bats fly. We’ve also looked at the KOA, too. Which one do you recommend more? Noting that you headed on to Roswell and hoping you checked out Bottomless Lakes while there. It is a pretty neat place actually, little oasis in the desert, for sure. I agree about Pecos, and glad to know about that road. We’ve looked at doing a grand tour sometime from Carlsbad to Guadalupe Mountains to Davis Mountains to Big Bend, then back up through the hill country, but it would put us on that road, I think. We will definitely rethink that now. Right now, the whole oil patch area is just pretty ridiculous, and we always recommend that travelers avoid it, if possible, especially if needing an overnight stay. The two-lane roads are overused with trucks, and hotels are stupid expensive in that entire area, especially Midland/Odessa, due to oilfield workers needing housing. If we need an overnight stay in the area on our way to Fort Davis, we go all the way to Monahans Sandhills SP, since they do not allow long-term campers there. It is also a neat little state park. Sorry about the rack and the bikes. That just stinks.
I have always enjoyed caves and hope to one day visit here. It is too bad it is located so far out of the way. You’d think they could move it…haha! The Lions’s Tails are new to me…very cool! The columns are just beautiful. Seeing these formation in person is a must. Thanks for sharing:)
So sorry to hear about your damage. Too bad you have decided to get rid of the bikes. You seem to use them quite a bit when there are proper trails. But like you said, you can get new ones when you are ready. You know…two bikes stand up beautifully in the back of a four door Jeep!!!! Always dry and safe:) Hint, hint!!
You seem to be right on the heels of Hans and Lisa. Hope you four catch up:)
So sorry to read about your bikes. That road is terrible.
We loved Carlsbad Caverns. What a wonderful underground mystery. We were all ready to see the bats and an unexpected storm came up. Everyone had to leave the ASAP! Darn the bad luck.
Thanks for the wonderful tour of the caverns — we’ve often thought about going there, but have always bypassed it because we’re not really “cave” people. But after seeing your photos and reading about your experience, we’ll definitely go there. The amphitheater is very cool — I’d love to see the bat flights! We’ll be sure to avoid that terrible road. I’m so sorry that you had to give up your bikes. Eric and I have found that we actually bike a lot more now that we’re traveling full-time, but I admit it does take more effort than just putting on our hiking boots. (Love your scaled quail photo!)
So sorry to hear about the damage you incurred and having to give up your bikes. I do admit to enjoying hiking more than biking, but they do come in handy at times, particularly in the cities. We really enjoyed Carlsbad Caverns as well. Very pleased to hear that all is good on the health front MonaLiza. Let’s all keep it that way! 🙂
Are you headed to Roswell soon?? We are currently here, long term, and staying at the Trailer Village RV Park. If there is anything we can do to help you with the area, questions, etc, please let me know. email@example.com
Underground caverns are such fun! I have been to Mammoth Cave and a few in Ohio. But these photos you took are incredible. We are headed that way this summer so who knows we just may check it all out. Sorry about your damage. Love those purple flowers at the end!
Thank you for a VERY enlightening post. We have marked up that road in our atlas to avoid. We may try and visit CC in December or February, weather permitting of course. We just unloaded our bikes as well, with mixed emotions. On the bright side – you are A-OK. You were just allergic to TX 😆
So glad to read you are A-OK!
Hope to make it to the caverns one day…looks amazing!
We are on our second set of bikes. I asked for them to ride in San Diego. We had a great time using them there…haven’t been on them since February!
Sorry to hear about the damage incurred on that stretch of road … and thanks for the warning. We’ll be heading back from Alamagordo this summer, so I’ll make sure to find an alternate route.
So sorry about the loss of your bikes. I’m really glad to hear you received good news from the doctor! Your photos of the cavern are great. I can never get good shots in a cave. It really is something you have to experience. We visited Carlsbad Caverns about 30 years ago while on a trip to the Grand Canyon with our kids when they were young. Your post brought back good memories! Have fun in Roswell!
A-OK….sweet news to your ears indeed! Glad when we get out of the testing stages for Mr. Jer…he’s still a mystery to the docs. We twisted our bumper on the last rig and now I’m worried about this rig…but with Mr. Jer’s joints the bike is his main ride. Sure going to keep an eye on it. Marking that road…so many out there but interesting to hear worse that Alaska….ecks! They need an app for that :O)
Oh I remember that terrible road! I should have warned you! I thought that road was the worst, the dirtiest I had ever been on. Im sorry to hear about your bikes! You two definitely ride more than we do. I enjoyed Carlsbad caverns and thought they were worth the journey! Safe travels you two!
A cave with a gift shop! I haven’t come across that before. You manged to take some great photos despite the lighting problems ML. And I love that windmill/full moon shot!
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