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Drive 2007 - Day 11
This day of my drive was almost entirely spent at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, in the southeast corner of New Mexico. Carlsbad Caverns is one of the most remote National Parks, but it is also one of the most impressive. I remember hearing one of the rangers there say something to the effect that the number of annual visitors would be twice what it is today if they could just move the cave to a more convenient location. The nearest town (other than Carlsbad itself) that most people from out of state have heard of is Roswell, at about 100 miles away. The distance is compounded because no interstate highway goes anywhere near Carlsbad. The state highway provides some great scenery, but is an indirect route and the speed limit is significantly lower.
Despite all of this, I would highly recommend a visit to anyone who is even sort of interested in caves and/or geology. I ended up taking quite a few photos inside, but like so many other things Carlsbad Caverns is something that needs to be experienced in person. Eventually I would like to go back, with battery-powered infrared and ultraviolet light sources. The interior is light very nicely for humans by the Park Service, but for reasons of efficiency (and not generating too much heat, I imagine), it's all fluorescent, so I couldn't take any multispectral photos inside during this visit.
The inside of Carlsbad Caverns is essentially the Jungian archetype of the "big, mysterious cave". Until I saw it for myself, I didn't really think that there were any actual caves that looked like it does.
I should also mention that great effort has been made to ensure that almost anyone can experience most of the public areas of Carlsbad, even if they're in a wheelchair or have similar mobility restrictions. While the main entrance requires hiking downhill inside the cave, there is an elevator from the surface to the "Big Room" of the caverns.
I mention "the public areas", because not all of Carlsbad Caverns is accessible directly. There are a few additional sections which were visitable in the early 20th century (the rickety "dangerous-looking ladder" pictured above was the means of reaching one of them). Today, the Park Service offers ranger-guided tours of six other parts of the caverns which are not part of the self-guided main area. If I do get a chance to go back, I'd very much like to take advantage of those tours, which visitors are recommended to make reservations for in advance. There are also areas that are not accessible to the public at all - Carlsbad Caverns is truly staggering in size, and the Park Service works to preserve some of it in its completely natural state. Don't let this dissuade you from visiting, as there's already more than enough to keep you occupied for several days if you are so inclined.
On my way north towards Albuquerque and Interstate 40, I passed through Roswell. Originally I had been planning on stopping there due to its famous UFO story. I have a lot of mixed feelings about UFO reports. I believe there is other intelligent life in the universe - it's just too big a place for human-kind to be all there is. On the other hand. I'm pretty skeptical of most "UFO sighting" type reports, because it seems to me that after decades of this sort of thing, if there were actual alien spacecraft visiting the Earth someone would have taken a decent photograph. However, there have been enough reports by credible people in various militaries around the world that I can't discount the possibility entirely. If there were aliens visiting the Earth, I imagine they would behave in the way that those more-credible reports describe them - keeping their distance, making observations, and not staying around for very long, much like how humans monitor bears and wolves in Yellowstone.
When I actually got to Roswell, I realized that (as in other cases), I just wasn't interested in seeing human-produced attractions on this type of trip. However, the town itself did little to clarify for me the likelihood that there was an actual UFO crash in Roswell. Aside from that story, Roswell is Anytown, USA. The rural parts of this country are full of thousands of such places, which could be equally famous if they had been the location of a supposed UFO crash. I don't mean this in a negative way - I mean that if an alien spacecraft were to crash in a random location within the US, there's a good chance it would be some place like Roswell. However, having grown up in a small rural town myself, I know that this kind of environment is also a good breeding ground for rumours and legends that have little (or no) basis in reality.
Just north of Roswell proper, I stopped at a restaurant ("Luana's Mexican") which does set Roswell apart from the town I grew up in, in that it is the best Mexican/Southwest food I've ever had. I would unreservedly suggest it to anyone who is visiting the area. Among other things, it's the first place I've ever eaten jalapeno poppers which were actually very spicy instead of mild.
The Southwest during the rest of this trip was bone-dry, but continuing north on state highway 285 towards I40, I saw a Southwestern rain and lightning storm for the first time. Rain in the Northwest is fairly frequently but almost always mild. Apparently the opposite is true in the Southwest: it is rare, but when it happens it is a truly furious storm. I could see it from a great distance on the highway; a single enormous cloud sitting on the ground, with a well-defined edge. Inside it was flashing with bright purple lightning. Unlike the lightning I grew up with, these bolts would form and remain for up to a second, strobing like old neon while holding the same shape the entire time.
When I entered the cloud, I was nearly blind due to the thick fog. The raindrops were giant, ranging in size from about 1cm (3/8") to about 3cm (just over 1"), and averaging about 2cm (3/4"). They splattered like transparent paint, and came in such a torrent that by the time I was out of the cloud, my car was cleaner than if I'd taken it to a carwash.
I drove well into the night, passing back over the border into Arizona and stopping between Winslow and Flagstaff. I would later learn that by doing this, I had missed out on the famous mesas of northern New Mexico. There are none in the southern part of the state, and so I assumed they were actually just in northern Arizona, much like how there are no Saguaro cactuses in New Mexico or Texas. I certainly wouldn't mind visiting this state again, so next time I'll be sure to see the areas near Albuquerque and Santa Fe in daylight.
Date: 10 September 2007
Starting Mileage: 66016
Ending Mileage: 66639
Distance Travelled (Day): 623 miles
Distance Travelled (Trip): 4285 miles
Gallons of Fuel Purchased (Day): 13.6
Gallons of Fuel Purchased (Trip): 128.5
GPS Map of Day 11
This map is based on a screenshot of Streets and Trips 2007 (©2007 Microsoft Corporation).