Subterranean caverns and biker musings

I entered the fourth cave-based park of this trip thinking that not only had I been here before, but that these caves, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, had been the first National Park I had ever visited. (Links to previous posts about Mammoth Cave NP in Kentucky, Oregon Caves NM in Oregon, and Lava Beds NM in California).  Once I got past the iconic, and oft photographed staircase from the Natural Entrance leading to the caverns however, nothing looked familiar.  I later realized that I thought I had been there before as a kid because I had seen photos of a visit my parents had done with other adults on a family vacation when I was quite young.  Over time, the memory of those photos from my childhood morphed into a pseudo-memory of a real-life occurrence.  The way the mind works is fascinating!

The 7-mile road, NM-7(aka Carlsbad Cavern Highway), from Whites City to the Visitors Center provided a great overview of Walnut Canyon. In addition to the 120 caves (documented so far), there are over 50 miles of primitive backcountry trails and a 9.5 mile 4-wheel drive desert drive loop to explore. There are many ways to enjoy the dramatic desert mountain scenery above the caverns.NPS website

I had arrived at the park early morning as the Rangers were raising the American flag and opening the visitors center for the day.  With only about four other people entering the vast cave system at the same time as me, it didn’t take long to lose sight of each other and feel alone in the massive caverns- a little scary, yet serene.  Although I knew I would physically pay for it later, I was still glad that I chose the entry route that included such amazing sights, like Bat Cave, Devil’s Spring, Green Lake Overlook, and the Boneyard, that I would’ve bypassed had I taken the elevator.

My hips were not thrilled with my decision to forgo the elevator and opt for the Natural Entrance route into the caverns. The walk down the 1.25 mile steep and narrow trail that descends over 750 feet into the earth was a bit challenging, but oh-so worth it! Unlike Mammoth Caves in Kentucky, which were formed by a weak carbonic acid slowly dissolving limestone through underground streams and rivers, these caves under the Guadalupe Mountains were formed from sulfuric acid dissolving the limestone along fractures and folds. -NPS website
Known as the Black Hole, this is the spot, in 1898, that teenager Jim White “discovered” the caves after tracing the place of origin for the flight of bats in the evening sky. Though he was the first white person to explore the caves, prehistoric, and historic Native Americans (the Nde, or Mescalero Apache) had inhabited this area for over 1000 years, leaving behind mysterious drawings on the cave walls.
According to the placard at the entrance to this passage, called the Bat Cave, the 600-1700 feet beyond this opening, is the nursery for hundreds of thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats. In July, newborn pups hang together on the ceiling and form a warm and cozy incubator. At sundown, bats fly through this passage to exit the cavern toward the southeast to feed in the Pecos and Black River valleys, using echo-location to catch and eat more than half their body weight in moths and insects each night. Though they leave in a thick bat whirlwind together at dusk, at dawn, they return to the Bat Cave individually or in small groups. Due to my self-imposed rule of not riding between dusk and dawn (my personal choice to mitigate accident risk due to wildlife and drunk/distracted driver encounters), I wasn’t able to witness the night flight on this trip.
Whales Mouth is a drapery formation along the Natural Entrance to Carlsbad Caverns.
The Lions Tail is a stalactite formation on the ceiling near the entrance to the Big Room, the largest, readily accessible cave chamber in North America (8.2 acres in total). -NPS website
The famous column of stalagmite and stalactite in the Big Room, known as the Temple of the Sun.

After touring the caverns, I headed south on US-62/180 towards Guadalupe Mountain National Park and the mountain range known as one of the best examples of a marine fossil reef.  The same massive horseshoe-shaped reef, from an ancient inland sea, that helped form the caverns also created the Guadalupe Mountains.  About half-way between the two national parks, I spied a sport bike stopped on the shoulder, on the opposite side of the road, with two Harley touring bikes stopped about 50 yards ahead of it.  Since we were in the middle of a desert with temperatures in the 90s, I decided to stop to make sure the sport bike was alright.

Me: “You OK?”

Sport biker:  “My bike is broken down.”  He points to his oil saturated left shoe, so I look inside the faring and see oil covering everything.

In his mix of English and Spanish, he tells me that he doesn’t know who to call but that the two bikers up ahead said they would call a truck for him.

Doubting that bikers who would be calling him a tow truck would’ve pulled so far away, I jumped on my bike and rode up to them to see what the story was.  Long story short, they figured that since he had cell phone coverage, he could summon his own recovery vehicle and were leaving him to do so.  I thanked them for the info and spun around to return to the sport biker, while they mounted up to continue on their way north.

Me:  Hey buddy, they aren’t calling a tow truck for you, do you have someone you can call?

Sport biker:  Yeah, I just talked to a good friend, he will be here in 30 minutes.

I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to call one of my towing service options and spend the afternoon waiting with him, since my first, and last, motorcycle towing incident several years ago proved that motorcycle tow trucks take hours to arrive.  I gave him my tuna lunch pack, an apple and some water, after he assured me that his friend was reliable and wouldn’t leave him stranded. He was very grateful for the gifts and thanked me profusely.  Feeling a little guilty about leaving him, I asked him one last time if he was sure his friend would get here quickly.

Sport biker:  Yes, Señora, he will come and I will be OK.

A little stung that I was now a señora, and no longer a señorita, I bid him farewell and continued south towards Guadalupe Mountain National Park :-/  As I rode away, I contemplated what it meant to be a “biker.”  As a middle-aged woman on a brand-new Harley, I’m sure I looked like a RUB, or Rich Urban Biker (a derogatory term typically applied to wealthy, urban, white-collar professionals who ride expensive, accessory-laden Harley-Davidson motorcycles, but only on the weekends or for short distances).  I recalled a few humorous scenes from the 2007 movie Wild Hogs, a whole movie dedicated to the concept, and had a good chuckle.  The truth is, I really didn’t care what being a biker means to anyone else.  I was seeing the country on two-wheels, and collecting experiences, one mile at a time, and enjoying every single minute of it. That seems like a good enough definition of “biker” for me 😊

Until next time…keep the shiny side up!

P.S. I didn’t tell the story about giving my lunch to this guy for acknowledgment of a good deed. I told the story in hopes of reminding everyone who rides to always be prepared for roadside emergencies. Keep your bike well-maintained and do a pre-ride inspection- you can catch so many little things at home before they turn into big things once you’re on the road. And even a little short ride can result in being stuck on the side of the road for hours, so it’s always a good idea to have snacks, some water, and weather/conditions appropriate gear with you. OK, public service announcement over 🙂

4 thoughts on “Subterranean caverns and biker musings

Add yours

    1. Yeah, I’m not big on caves either, but Carlsbad Caverns are so iconic, I felt like I had to go. It was worth the trip into the underworld, but I think I’ve seen enough caves for a while.


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