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  • Writer's pictureInger and Jeff Latreille

A Whole New World

~Thursday, December 17, 2020~

Day 186

Warning!!! Long read, but worth keeping your eye to the page.

So this is what it looks like. That’s what we get for arriving at our campsite in the dark near Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Pretty barren and flat, but we’re only here to see the caverns and the location is perfect being only minutes to the national park, and in close proximity to propane and water, if needed.

Oh, no. Houston, we might have a problem. Though the heater was working during the night with the thermostat set to 55 degrees, when we increased the temperature to 70 this morning, it appeared to only be blowing cold air. At least the blower is working. Thinking we had less than a gallon in the propane tank, we switched the tank which seemed to do the trick. Sometimes if there’s too little propane in the tank, there isn’t enough pressure to ignite the pilot light. And with no water (we still don’t know how the fresh tank misread so poorly), there were no options for showers this morning 💦so that will have to wait until we get water later today. Sorry fellow cavern tourists, but you’ll just have to put up with us the way we are.

We picked the absolute best time to be at Carlsbad Caverns. Perfect weather, clear and in the mid-sixties, and a small number of tourists which allowed us to avoid any lines (busy season can be up to a 2-hour wait). Since dogs are not allowed in any national park (they can be on leash in parking lots), Carlsbad Caverns was no exception. But the weather was completely suitable for her to be in the car and chill as we toured. Since so many tourists have dogs, the visitor center offers kennel services for $10 during their peak, hot season. They have to, since this location is pretty isolated with very few options for pet loving tourists.

I made sure not to look at any photos, nor any videos ahead of time about this spectacular place, wanting complete surprise and discovery. And I’m so glad I did. So if you’ve never been (spoiler alert), I wouldn’t read on or look at our photos, if you can resist. 😉 I can honestly say that at the end of the day, this is my absolute favorite place we’ve visited so far. There’s nothing else like it in the world. Sorry Bandelier National Monument. You’ve now dropped to 2nd place.

After getting our “golden ticket” (that $80 National Park Pass has really come in handy), we stopped in the bookstore to ask a question. We’re glad we went there first since this is where we learned about the audio tour that you can purchase for $5. We’ve done these before, and they’re sooo worth it. The strange part is, they weren’t attempting to sell these at the ticket counter which explains why we were the only ones we saw on the tour with one. After a routine speech given by a very nice park guide, we were on our way to the bat flight amphitheater

and onward into the natural entrance that leads to the journey underground. The amphitheater was built for tourists to congregate to watch the Brazilian free-tailed bats fly out in gigantic swarms at night-fall for their routine feeding on insects and other prey (not humans). Unfortunately, we’re missing this striking display as it only happens from April to October, when they leave for Mexico for the winter, only to return again the following year. It’s so cool that this cave serves as a summer home, a daytime refuge, and maternity roost. Each birth occurs on the ceiling as the mother hangs by her toes and thumbs with the baby clinging to her. A mother will birth only 1 pup/year. At night, the young are left in the cave while the adults leave to feed. How does she return to her one pup in a cluster of 300 bats/square foot? By its scent and its cry. Absolutely amazing. Sadly, we found out there is a disease that is plaguing these and other bats throughout North America called WPD or White Powder Disease. Scientists think this cold-loving fungal disease was introduced from Europe around 2006. The signs of its destruction is a powdery substance on their muzzle and wings. They think it is being spread by humans who carry the fungus on their shoes or clothing (people who have visited other cave sites). Apparently, there is a way to decontaminate your gear, but since we haven’t seen any bat caves as of late, we knew we were in the clear. Bats are so important to our ecosystem, that this is a huge concern. Great… I have to worry about something else.😩

What made things even more special with our visit today, is that there were very few tourists, making it feel as if you had the whole cave to yourself. We could take our time around every turn, with every exhibit reading, with every photo being taken. As you go deeper and deeper into the cave, just when you think you’ve already seen the most spectacular decorations (as the “tour guide” calls them), the cavern becomes even more breathtaking.

I love the term “decorations” which is a word that encompasses all of the cavern elements, i.e. stalactites (the decorations that hang from the ceiling), the stalagmites (the decorations that come up from the ground), columns, draperies, etc. I tried to take photos of examples of all of these. The cave’s history dates back 265 million years ago evolving into a sulfuric cave converting limestone into gypsum as rinds. These rinds peeled off the walls then fell into the water and dissolved. As new rinds replaced old ones, the sponge work slowly enlarged into the huge chambers we see today. And to think the amazing discovery of this cave took place a little over 100 years ago, when a curious teenage boy, Jim White, saw what looked like smoke in the distance. It wasn’t smoke. It was bats.

While I was still wrapping my head around this otherworldly place we just saw, I went back to the visitor center to check out some books to purchase, while Jeff took Sadie for a stroll. On the tour, we had heard about another cave, about 5 miles from this location, by air (what I was told), called Lechuguilla Cave. Since 1984, explorers have mapped over 145 miles of passages and have pushed the depth of the cave to 1,604 feet. The plan is never to open it to the public. It’s just too inaccessible for tourists. Since we were both intrigued about it and we can’t go there, I thought I’d purchase a book about it. Another one to add to the “Trip Bookroom”.

After our extraordinary tour, we needed to stop and pick up water (25 cents/gallon) at this water depot just outside the park. Unfortunately, the propane dude was not on duty, so we had to drive about 20 miles to get propane. Not good planning on our part, but if it’s any consolation, it was a bargain at $2.25/gallon. So after filling (3) 5-gallon water containers and (1) 5-gallon tank of propane, we were as good as new. That is until we arrived at the trailer, turned on the heat, and once again….no heat. Jeff thinks it’s the thermocouple but won’t know until he has a chunk of time to look at it when we get to San Antonio. Plus, he’s feeling like he’s getting a slight cold and doesn’t feel like trying to figure things out in the dark. So I guess we’ll have to live without heat tonight. I know what will do the trick in getting us warmer…....a nice homemade soup with grilled cheese sandwiches.

Between the heater issue and making dinner, I met our neighbors who were sitting by their fire ring, while Jeff was taking care of water tank duties. As we were talking about our experience in visiting the caverns, I realized we had seen them in the cave earlier in the day, exchanging hellos and passing each other. They decided to do a partial tour starting at the Big Room 1-½ miles, whereas we started further back from the Natural Entrance 3-½ miles. What is even more interesting is that Summer and her husband Vince are doing the same route we are and for the same ultimate purpose….to find a new home. They sold their home in Riverside, as he just retired December 1, and they’re figuring out their next move. After chatting for about 30 minutes, we exchanged information. It would be great to see where they end up, and who knows, we may see them on the road again one day.

As I sit writing tonight, Jeff is all bundled up with Sadie, getting some much needed rest and I am completely bundled up head to toe, candles lit, in a 52 degree trailer, and the temperature is dropping. Of all the times for the heater to not work, 1. We just left the dealership for repairs, and 2. We’re boondocking and not at an RV park or State park or somewhere where we could be using alternative heat methods, i.e. portable space heater or fireplace. We could run the generator, but it’s too late and we don’t want to disturb our neighbors. As we encounter every obstacle, I just keep singing the 80’s song by Steve Winwood, “Roll With it Baby”. What else are ‘ya gonna do?

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