We’re officially one week into our once-in-a-lifetime cross country trip.
After driving some treacherous roads last night, we arrived safely at the Rodeway Inn in Whites City, New Mexico. The town of Whites City is closer to Carlsbad Caverns than the town of Carlsbad. Go figure. Even though we paid a lot (to me) for the hotel, I was nervous about how clean it would be as it was only a 2 star hotel.
Our room was spotless! We had plenty of space to put out an air mattress for 2 of our kids. We got into the room just in time to watch the press conference from Game 1 of the NBA championship and hear all the controversy over the Cleveland Cavalier’s JR Smith not knowing that they were tied with Golden State. The Cavs then lost in OT. We’re a sports family so it was nice to stay updated.
In the morning, the Rodeway Inn of Whites City had a really nice breakfast with homemade waffles and other continental breakfast items. Our goal was to pack up and leave the hotel by 8 so we could be some of the first visitors to the Park. While I dried my hair, my husband looked through my National Parks book (Your Guide to all the National Parks by Michael Joseph Oswald – 2nd edition) and asked me if I reserved a guided tour of the Caverns. I had not. I quickly got on the National Parks website (recreation.gov) and looked for tours. Of course, they were all booked. I was so bummed. There were self-guided tours but everyone said it’s better to go on a guided tour. No one else in my family seemed to be upset about it but I was. I felt like I dropped the ball. I was disappointed. I’m always the hardest on myself. I didn’t want to travel all the way to Carlsbad Caverns and not get the most out of our visit.
We got to the Caverns around 8:20 a.m. My husband went in to ge tickets while I collected our gear in the car.
He said, “I’m going to try to get us on a guided tour.”
I said, “Ok, I guess it’s worth a try.” I had no hope that it would happen.
Jimmy used Seth’s 4th grade pass to get all of us into the Park for free – money saved!
When I came into the Visitor’s Center, the kids were sitting on a bench just inside the door.
One said, “Mom, Dad got us on the 9 a.m. King’s Palace tour.”
When my husband came around the corner, I asked him and sure enough, all six of us got on the ranger-guided tour that was supposedly full until the following Tuesday. I asked my husband how he worked that out.
He simply said, “I told him that the Stoppers are here.” (cue eye roll by me)
Thank you God! Just another example of His small kindnesses to us. If I had to do it all again, I’d try to reserve a spot beforehand. This incident quickly brought to memory the time when we took the kids on a last-minute trip to Disney. We got this crazy two-night deal at a timeshare off of Craigslist. The kids were ages 7 down to 1 at the time. We were there at the Magic Kingdom on the busiest day of the year – New Years’ Eve. Around dinnertime, we strolled up to a restaurant with character dinners (having no clue that these reservations are made way in advance) and asked for a table of six. The hostess chuckled (probably thinking “who are these crazy people?”) She then looked down at her reservation list and with a look of bewilderment on her face said, “We just had a cancellation for a table of six so I can’t believe I’m saying this, but yes, we have a table for you.”
Thank you God – you’ve done it again!
To start the tour, the rangers gave us a few ground rules.
#1 No eating. You can only drink water. Okay, we can do that.
#2 No touching the formations. Oh boy!
#3 Only whispering. Are you kidding me? How can I get my boys to whisper for four hours? They told us that a normal speaking voice can travel up to a quarter mile in the caverns. The caverns didn’t know what they were in for when they allowed the Stopper boys in. They don’t have the gift of whispering.
I don’t even know how to put into words the magnificence of Carlsbad Caverns. It was like nothing I’d ever seen. First, we traveled 750 feet down into the caves via a very fast elevator. At the bottom, we met our tour group the for the King’s Palace tour. The ranger explained to us all about the types of formations made of calcite – stalactites (that hang “tight” to the ceiling), stalagmites (that “might” just reach the ceiling), draperies (they look like hanging curtains), soda straws (thin pencil-like formations), and so much more. The caverns are just barely lit up with LED lights so you can see the formations.
Also, the caverns are cool (in temperature) – around the upper 50s even in the summer. I wore shorts, a short-sleeved shirt, and put on a light jacket when we got into the caverns. It was just right.
Our guide explained that Jim White was the first person to explore the Caverns in the late 1800s. He was 16 when he first started exploring them with only a candle or homemade lantern. The ranger asked us, “What would it be like if Jim’s light went out?”
At that point, the guide turned off the lights and shut off his lantern. It was complete darkness – so much so that I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. He asked us to imagine how Jim would have felt if his light went out and how nervous he would have been trying to relight his candle.
If his light source failed, how would he ever get back out of the cave?
Our guide also told us that when you get dripped on in the caverns, they call it a “Cave Kiss.” I officially got 3 cave kisses and a few stolen ones from my hubby.
Here’s a picture of the most famous formation in the King’s Palace – the royal family. Above the royal family, you can see a drapery formation that they call the guillotine.
After the guided tour, we had lunch on a picnic table outside the Visitor’s Center. This is what happened when I went to the bathroom and the kids got my camera. Dangerous…
After lunch, we took a self-guided tour called The Natural Entrance Tour. First, we got two audio tour guide devices ($5 each) so we (I mean, I) could listen. Being a card-carrying member of the Hereford Middle School original Nerd Herd (shout out to the other founding members – Jess, Holly, and Joanna), I always want to hear more information on anything I’m visiting. For me, audio tours make your visit so much richer. For The Natural Entrance tour, there are 50 stations along the tour. At each station, you can put the number into your device and hear a brief explanation by holding the device up to your ear. By the end of the tour, we were all sharing the audio devices.
The natural entrance to the caverns is spectacular.
You walk down the hill from the Visitor’s Center to the entrance. Upon entering, you wind your way 800 feet down the switchback trails. Thankfully, they put in hand rails during the 1990s. My 12 year-old son is extremely afraid of heights. At many points, he was inching his way down the trail with a death grip on the hand rails. But he made it.
Here’s a picture looking at the cave entrance once we entered.
The word spectacular doesn’t even describe it. It seemed like you’re walking into a black pit. As slowly moved down into the cavern, cave swallow birds were flying in, out, and around. The famous bats of Carlsbad Caverns (mainly Brazilian Freetail Bats) live in the caverns but don’t make their ceremonial exit until dusk. We wanted to stay for their exit (around 7:30 p.m.) but we had to get onto our next destination.
As we finished our tour through The Big Room, The Rock of Ages formation was one of my favorites.
The audio tour station explained that during the very first tours of the caverns, they would blow out their candles and then sing the hymn “Rock of Ages” together. The words to the hymn are a beautiful poem of praise to the Lord.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save me from its guilt and power.
Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All could never sin erase,
Thou must save, and save by grace.
Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace:
Foul, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.
How incredible would that be to hear the echo of voices raised to the Lord in complete darkness?
If you can make it out west some time – Carlsbad Caverns is a must-see! I won’t soon forget this breathtaking expression of God’s creativity.
After Carlsbad Caverns, we traveled through the town of Carlsbad. It was officially 104 degrees. HOT! Our original plan was to stay at the Carlsbad KOA but Jimmy and I decided that we wanted to get to our next destination – White Sands National Monument – early in the morning to beat the New Mexico heat. In the Carlsbad McDonald’s line waiting for ice cream cones, I booked a room in Alamogordo, New Mexico for the night through Hotwire (my new favorite site). Honestly, I was disappointed to lose the money we spent for the KOA ($50) but my husband gently convinced me that it would be for the best.
As we drove through New Mexico on Highway 82, the flat desert slowly turned into small hills. At this point, my daughter was driving for the first time on our trip. We watched the cattle all along the route. At one point, a calf was right in the middle of the road.
Then, we entered the Lincoln National Forest and the roads got more winding and the hills turned into mountains. My husband decided to take over driving. As we made it up the mountains, the temperature plummeted. We even passed a ski resort. Who knew there were beautiful forests in New Mexico? At the top the mountains near the small town of Cloudcroft (population 674), the temperature had dropped to 75 degrees – a 30 degree drop from Carlsbad. We stopped along the side of the road to take some pictures of the view and of an old train bridge – the Mexican Canyon Trestle. Another spectacular view!
Yes – New Mexico!
Coming down the mountain, the views were just as amazing. By the time, we reached Alamogordo around 7:30 p.m., it was back up to 90 degrees. We quickly checked into the Quality Suites and hit the Hi-D-Ho Drive-In for a Tiger Burger. We always ask the locals for recommendations. The lady at the hotel said that the Hi-D-Ho Drive-In was “good and cheap” – just what we like.
My husband is still talking about their Tiger burger – two ½ lb. burger patties on a bun. It was $8 with fries and a drink.
He was hoping we could go back the next morning to get one for breakfast.
After a filling dinner, we got back to the hotel for a much needed clean-out of the car so we could find the floor again – and of course, a photo opportunity at sunset.
We thanked the Lord for another special day on the road. He is so good to us!