I drove down to Carlsbad Caverns in Eastern New Mexico via Phoenix for starters. My only comment about Phoenix is that if you get lost and drive out of town, you really drive out of town. There is NOTHING out there, you just wind up out in the middle of some dusty desert somewhere. The only reason I know this is because I got lost looking for the freeway to get out of town. Next time I'll be sure to specify I want to leave town via a road that has a hope of getting me somewhere else!! So I spent the next day driving like mad to get to Carlsbad. After you take the freeway to El Paso, then it's twisty desert mountain roads the rest of the way. Of course, I hit this late at night so I got to dodge the nocturnal wildlife at high speed. Passed a half a dozen field mice, a few armidillos, a couple coyotes, an elk and some border patrol officers at a check station. They didn't think I was going to stop at their stop sign. Well, I'm from California, what did they expect? Like you could hide anybody in my Eclipse, anyway. It's basically a glove compartment with All Wheel Drive and a big turbo.
But it's worth the long trip to Carlsbad. The caverns are lovely!! :)
I signed up for the King's palace tour, then I hustled to the caves to
hike through the natural entrance tour and the big room tour. For those
of you who get there, I wish to save you endless years of embarassment
as you replay your home videos. Those things flying out of the cave are
NOT bats. They are swallows (or sparrows or some other 'ow' birds). By
the time you figure this out you'll have already exclaimed, "Woah! Bats!"
on your video and it will be too late to prevent embarassment when you
show your video later. Anyway, while I'm on the topic of video, be VERY
careful when walking around in the dark caves shooting video. Unless you're
trying to film a comedy, your audience won't appreciate your abrupt scene
transitions as you stumble into a fence or rock at the end of your traveling
scene. (Although my audiences seem to like seeing me crash into things.
I reward them by forcing them to watch videos of my cat. ;)
Anyway, there's lots of formations to see, including "The Formation Formerly
Prince 'The Eternal Kiss'" which is a stalactite
and stalacmite which look like they're touching at a narrow point (but
you can't really tell from nearby if they touch or not due to the shape).
Couples used to come sit in front of the "Eternal Kiss" around Valentine's
Day and smooch. (There's really not a lot to do out in Carlsbad other than
visit the caverns, have I mentioned this?) Anyway, one year an electrician
there climbed up on the stalagmite with his ladder (a no no) and stuck
his credit card between the two and discovered they did not touch.
The park service (being the Boy Scout types they are- I think it's the
uniforms) decided they couldn't lie to the public so they boiled the guy
in oil for ruining a perfectly romantic spot and took the name off it.
Nobody's renamed it, although, things like "frustration" or "unrequited
love" are often suggested.
After the tours I discovered they offer "off-tunnel" tours and then managed to squeeze into one of these the next day (where a small group of us (12) took kerosene lanterns and hiked down a closed-off portion of the cave with a guide. (The main part of the cave has electric lighting on the stalagmites and columns, paved pathways and is so large you could park a couple 747's in there). We went down the "left hand tunnel" which was ancient looking and dusty and we were carefully stepping over stalagmites and pools on a dusty footpath. Quite a different feel and it was a lot of fun. :) While the main part of the cave hardly feels like Disneyland, this really felt like a serious cave.
At night I watched the "bat flight"
where 200,000 bats fly out of the cave in a large swirling mass. Goes on
for hours at dusk. There's not much to say about the bat flight except
"Please NO Flash Photography!" (The electronic circuits of the flash units
operate at a frequency that produces sounds which interefere with the bats'
sonar. So, of course tons of <flash> <flash> :) Ooo, batcrash!
(Don't tell the Gotham City criminals about this little problem)
Next destination of the trip was Grand Junction where I was going to meet up with my friends from Germany to take a raft drip, er, I mean trip down the Colorado River. I wanted to see Mesa Verde, though, so I had to hustle. I started driving North through New Mexico and I notice the sky is getting darker... and darker... and.... uh oh. That looks pretty nasty up ahead, but maybe I'll miss whatever it is. Well, I didn't and what it was was a typhoon. Well, not really but it was a lot of hail and rain! And I'm out there driving through it listening to what sounds like bullets hitting my new car as the road is covered with inches of standing water. So, I figure my choice is to stay out there and get pelted by hail or floor it and see if those Michelin Pilot XGT's and AWD really are worth anything. I think you can guess what I did. It was like Moses parting the Red Sea. I had walls of water blowing past the sides of the car, hee hee hee! Probably enough said about that... ;) Anyway, I made it to Gallup.
The next day I needed to get to Mesa Verde and then up to Grand Junction
that night so I had to hustle (again). Started driving up to Mesa
Verde and Dooop! ran into highway construction! And of course there's
three RV's ahead of about 2 dozen cars so that by the time you get through
the construction you have to risk life an limb to get around the herd so
you can even drive the speed limit! All I can say is that the turbo
REALLY helps. It was a heck of a drive and all I remember are endless
lines of cars, RV's towing trucks, trucks towing airplanes and old people
weaving all over the road and stopping in the tunnels so abruptly that
the cops tailing me almost rear-ended me. Now that I think about
it, I probably shouldn't elucidate on the details... You'll like me a lot
better this way. Honest. Anyway, finally got to Mesa Verde
and took the tours of the cliff dwellings left by the ancient anasazi.
Why did they leave? Nobody knows. Probably after they built permanent residences
telemarketers drove them out, but that's only my theorey. ;)
You can take one of two guided tours, and there's a self guided tour, also. Since I was in a hurry, I took the least popular tour- the Cliff House. The reason it's the least popular is because it's not as big as the Palace tour and there's the little details about climbing the 30 foot ladders and negotiating the narrow steps on the sheer rock faces to deal with. Also there's a tunnel you have to crawl through, and if you're with your friends, they all seemed to be taking pictures of each other's butts as they squirmed through the tunnel. That's something they don't warn you about in the brochure, you know.
I also took the self-guided tour and it was really cool, although my guide wasn't the best. :)
Drove up to Grand Junction and took a raft trip down the Colorado for three days. Put in at Westwater and took out near Moab. We hiked, we rafted down rapids, we floated around getting tan and got into water fights. It was pretty fun. :)
Then I went up to Arches National Park and hiked up there. The only arch I hiked up to in my 1994 trip was the Landscape arch (which is the world's largest arch) which was closed this trip because 40 tons of rock had recenly fallen off it! We did hike to several other arches and up to the lovely Delicate Arch to watch the sunset, though. Then to Canyonlands Ntl. Pk./Dead Horse Point St. Pk. and hiked there. Hiked at Capitol Reef National Park next, then headed to Bryce Canyon National Park. Between the two, Arches and Bryce I like the best because the shapes of the formations are so spectacular. These weren't cut by river action, but rather by rain freezing in the rocks in the winter and splintering off soft layers leaving arches, columns, pillars, fins, etc. Very beautiful!! Bryce was the toughest hiking, though. We went up and down steep hills in the hot (It was about 100 out that day) sun all day. Whew! Actually, it wouldn't have been so bad but when we were about halfway around a loop trail, I made my friend's girlfriend give me her backpack to carry because it was getting clear to me she wasn't going to make it back carrying it. (My friend had his own backpack to carry and I only use hip-belts for day hikes because day packs are too hot and uncomfortable to carry, I think. Anyway, I had a free back. :) It was worth the hike, though. Beautiful formations there. By the time I got to Zion National Park, I had hiked through so much spectacular country I was wandering around going, " Yeah, yeah, towering cliffs... scenic views... been there/done that, big deal." :) And I could hear the majestic cliffs calling to me (I swear just because it was 112 out does not mean I was delirious ;) in an admonishing tone, "Listen here, young man! We've been busily eroding for hundreds of millions of years and if THAT's all the appreciation we're going to get we're going to spontaneously erode 40 tons of rock right on top of your head!" Suddenly, I felt much more appreciative of the entire park. =) But I didn't stay there long. ;) Went down to LostWages NV, ate my way through a buffet table, waddled over to a 3D Imax movie and then continued driving back to the Bay area. Just not much of a gambler. :) But what other town on Earth can you buy gold jewelry from a man with one tooth named Ed? (The man, not the tooth, that is) In any other town, he'd be the guy changing the oil in your car.
Anyway, that's pretty much the trip. I might have a couple things more to add; I'll see what I come up with.