While saying in Alamogordo, NM near White Sands National Monument, we realized that Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountain National Parks were both about three hours away. Two weeks in the town of Alamogordo, NM was way too long, and we were starting to get restless. Plus, one of the main objectives of why we started this RV lifestyle was to see the National Parks, so we decided to make a day trip out of it and headed to Carlsbad, NM in the morning of Saturday, February 18.
The three hour drive went by fairly quickly as we had a series of changing views out our window – from mountains and rolling hills to forest and then back to desert. We even saw snow as we drove through the mountains and past the ski resort town of Cloudcroft. We made it to Carlsbad Cavern National Park around lunch time. We ate our packed lunch on the tailgate of the truck, and then headed down to the cave for tour the self-guided tour.
You could choose to take the elevator or hike down from the natural entrance. We choose the natural entrance and began the 1.25 mile journey to go down 750-feet under the Chihuahuan Desert. From May to October, there are bats living in the cave, but we were a bit early to see them.
The caves were formed when sulfuric acid dissolved limestone leaving behind caverns of all sizes. These caverns were not as beautiful as the Sonora Caverns we visited at the end of January, but their massive scale was impressive!
We hiked down from the entrance and into the “The Big Room” checking out all the interesting rock formations and speleothems (a fancy word we learned that means stalactites, stalagmite, and any other cave deposits made of calcite).
The Big Room really was BIG! At about 8.2 acres in size, 6 football fields would fit in there! The National Park website say it is the largest single cave chamber by volume in North America. The number of formations was amazing as well. It takes about 1.5 hours to walk the circular route that goes around the perimeter. We took the short-cut route and saw about half of it since we wanted to get going to Guadalupe Mountains National Park which is 30-40 minutes away.
Unfortunately, we didn’t account for the time it would take to go up the elevator at the bottom. We had to wait in line for almost an hour to go up. With each passing minute, I grew more and more anxious since it was getting close to closing time at Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
We finally made it out of the cave and booked it to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. We since this park is right on the border of the time zones, we thought it was in Central Time and were sure we missed the Visitor Center closing time by an hour.
It turns out it is on Mountain Time, but we still missed the closing time by about 10 minutes! If we would have went straight to the Visitor Center before taking our picture by the sign, we just might have made it just in time to get our National Parks Passport Book stamped.
We were a little bummed by our poor planning, but we made the best of it. We wanted at least see a little of the park. There are no roads that go through it and most of the hikes are longer than we had time for. So we settled for the Pinery Trail nature hike directly behind the Visitor Center.
There were some ruins from the Butterfield Overland Mail Station. The Butterfield Overland Company’s stagecoaches provided transportation of U.S. mail between St. Louis, MO, and San Francisco, CA from 1858 to 1861. I thought it was kind of cool since we used to live in the Overland township in St. Louis before we moved into our RV full-time.
After we did the short hike, we decided it was time to head out since we still had a three hour drive back to Alamogordo ahead of us. We had just driven out of the park when I looked out the window and saw the beautiful way the light was hitting El Capitan. We had to pull over and get some photos.
Even though we had a long day and a long way ahead of us, we stayed to watch the sunset. We never regret taking extra time for moments like that.