Today is my little brothers birthday! Happy Birthday Tom!
Yesterday, we left the Inn and headed for Roswell. Yes, we thought it would be fun to see the UFO capital of America. The official museum and research center was pretty lame. We were hoping it would be sort of funny and interesting but no. The people who worked there were not friendly or nice and the whole place was tired and sort of pathetic. Oh well. Back into the car and on to Carlsbad. We reached Carlsbad in time to check into the hotel, hit the pool for an hour, grab some take-out BBQ and head to the park for a picnic dinner before the flight of the bats. The visitor center is on top of some small mountains so the view from our picnic table was fantastic. The company wasn't bad either as we had a couple of Turkey Vultures soaring pretty close.
We finished up our dinner and headed to the amphitheater. It is directly in front of the natural entrance to the cave where the bats fly out. We got our seats and listened to the ranger as he talked while we waited for the bats. Around 8:05 PM, the bats started coming. They fly up from about 400-500 feet down in the cave (one type of bats roosts at the very bottom, about 1100 feet down!) and they swirl up to the mouth like a whirlwind, doing one last swirl in front of the mouth of the cave and then shooting off to the right in a jet stream of bats. As they started coming out, you could smell the 'cave smell' which was a musty smell mixed with bat guano. I thought it smelled OK, the rest of the gang didn't like it much. Whenever some of the bats would stray from the stream and fly out over the amphitheater, the smell would intensify immediately. So while you may not be able to see the bats in the cave, you sure will smell them when you are getting close to their roosts. The whole thing was a spectacle well worth experiencing. We were not allowed to photograph the bat flight so we will have to show you the pictures we bought when you visit us at home. The bats poured out for about 45 minutes- well past dusk (We were told there are about 250,000-300,000 bats living in that cave). We stayed until we could not see them any longer. It was soo cool that we just did not want to leave.
But, we had a 10 am tour the next morning and found out that we had to hike an hour down into the cave to get there so we knew the next morning was going to be an early one so we finally headed out around 9.
Getting up this morning was difficult. Of course it was the morning that every one of the kids would have slept 2 hours longer! We hit the road at 8am and arrived just before 9. We got our tour tickets for the 'Kings Palace' room tour (they had some other tours where you had to crawl long distances through small tunnels but you had to be 12+ for those) and headed to the cave entrance. It was a really neat experience heading down hundreds of feet into the cave mouth, and then eventually getting to the point where natural light could no longer reach. This cave is immense. I believe there are 5 huge caverns inside and then dozens and dozens of smaller chambers- some they are still exploring. I am not sure I want to even try to describe what it looks like because it is nothing like you have ever seen before. Take a look at a few of the pictures... It looks like a whole other world down there: beautiful, unique, unreal.
We took a 1.5 hour tour of the Kings Palace and the Queens chamber. In the Queen's chamber, the ranger had all the lights turned out for a few minutes so we could see what it is really like in the caves: Dark- like absolutely no light. You cannot see your hand directly in front of your eyes. The kids got a kick out of that part.
The ranger told a story about Jim White, the 16 year old ranch hand who first explored the cave, and about how one time deep in the cave, he was down to his last 3 matches and almost couldn't re-light his lantern. Experiencing that type of darkness, there is no way you are getting out of that cave without a light.
After our tour, we went up the elevator (travels the 750 feet up in less then 1 minutes), had lunch and then went back down to explore the 'Big Room'. This room is the size of about 14 football fields with an average ceiling height of maybe 30-40 yards. We walked the 1.3 miles around this room and it took just about an hour. We could have stayed in there much longer and taken many more tours. It was really one of the highlights of our trip and tonight some of the kids were rating it their number one national park! I bought a DVD so we could share at least a glimpse of this with all of you when we get back.
The pictures: mouth of the cave, a few pictures of inside the cave, the kids just completing their Carlsbad Cavern Jr Ranger badges.