Sweet Friends, Amazing Caves, and Our First True Dust Storm in New Mexico

Carlsbad, New Mexico
March 16-21, 2018

When our dear friends the Waldroops messaged to ask if we were anywhere near Carlsbad, we couldn’t have been more delighted to say yes. Tanya & Dakota became our close friends in college, and since that time our 4 daughters have become very special friends as well. Our entire family was counting down the minutes for this opportunity to spend time with them on their spring break vacation.

These sweet girls have been close friends nearly their entire lives.

We did some exploring with them – in Sitting Bull Falls Recreation Area, Guadalupe National Park, and Carlsbad Caverns National Park – and we enjoyed several meals with them. But mostly, we just relished the chance to spend time with old friends. Beware the lonely extrovert….on most of our drives Tanya hopped in the car with me, and I just absolutely could not stop talking. I hadn’t realized how much I’d been missing time with friends. I’m always an over-sharing, talkative person, but it felt like the floodgates just opened and I poured out all over this sweet friend for several days. She was such a great sport about the whole thing, and even though I kept apologizing for dominating all conversations, she kept insisting that she loved getting to hear all about what was going on with us.

No kids left this place totally dry after a fun evening of exploring.
The wind was blowing this waterfall off it’s course!
We tried to watch “bat flight” one evening at sunset with the Waldroops in Carlsbad Caverns NP, but we were too early in the migration season…we only saw a handful of bats coming out of the cave mouth.
The girls had a blast building fairy houses along the trail while we waited for the part of our group that wanted to cover some extra miles in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
The best part of hiking (the snacks) took a back seat to the VERY best thing (great friends) while we explored Guadalupe Mountains NP.
It was so fun to earn Jr Ranger badges with a buddy. (Poor Julianne wasn’t feeling well on this day, and she was very missed!)
The Roswell vibe has spread throughout much of southern New Mexico!
All those car snacks just go straight to your hips.
Enjoying dinner with friends at our boon docking site outside of Carlsbad, NM.

I don’t know how I am so lucky to have such amazing friends in my life, in so many different corners of the US.

Besides meeting up with great friends here, our main reason for visiting this part of New Mexico was to explore Carlsbad Caverns National Park. We hiked down the natural entrance one day to check out the incredible Big Room, and rode the elevators down for a ranger-guided tour another day.

This formation is called the “Lion’s Tail”…for obvious reasons. It tough to get any perspective, but it’s several feet long & hangs way up above your head from the cave ceiling.
Carlbad Caverns was amazing & other worldly. It’s a place that can’t be described or captured in photographs…in fact, Ansel Adams tried to photograph the cave and was so unhappy with his pictures that he destroyed most of them.
Adams also said that the cave was, “something that should not exist in relation to human beings. Something that is as remote as the galaxy, incomprehensible as a nightmare, and beautiful in spite of everything.” So, take it from me & Ansel…you need to go see it with your own eyes.
The word “tapestry” just doesn’t do this stone fabric tree growing deep within the earth any justice.
Oh, and there’s a snack bar down there.
As you explore the cave you can find black smudges, sometimes with dates or letters, where one of the earliest cave explorers, cowboy Jim White marked cave walls to show himself the way out. At one point on the ranger-tour, we all turned off our lights to experience the mind-numbing blackness down there. As our group sat in the black silence, interrupted only by the occasional sound of drips or someone in the group sniffing their nose, I wondered to myself… if I was alone at this spot in the cave, with no light, would I try to follow the path for more than a mile, twisting and ducking and climbing its way outside? Or would I just lay down right there and wait to die? I hadn’t decided before the ranger turned the lights back on.
One ranger explained to us that you get to glimpse into the psyche of Jim White, just by reading through the names he gave to various parts of the cave. Here’s a quote from nps.gov: “At first, Jim was very uncomfortable in the cave. The names he assigned to formations give us some insight into what he was feeling when he came across new features for the first time. He named the first drip pool “Devil’s Spring.” That was soon followed by the “Devil’s Armchair,” “Devil’s Den,” and finally the “Witch’s Finger.” As he spent more time in the cave, Jim became more comfortable with his surroundings. His naming became more matter of fact: “The Big Room” and “Left Hand Tunnel.” There were some places that sparked Jim’s imagination. He named the “King’s Palace” and even found a royal family in residence.” It’s no wonder that White began his exploration intrepidly and fearful, but slowly grew to love and appreciate the unique beauty of this place.  I felt the same way! The photo above was taken in the “Queen’s Chamber”, the deepest part of Carlsbad which is only accessible on a ranger-led tour.

The eerily quiet, still, underground labyrinth was in stark contrast to what was going on above ground this week.  During our stay in Carlsbad, we learned that spring is the “windy season” in New Mexico. (If you don’t know me well enough to hear my tone in my writing, let me just say that ass an exaggerated understatement.) We got our first taste of a true dust storm while we were parked in a giant dirt parking lot. Because of the angle of our rig in relation to the wind, dust from the parking area whipped directly against and into our home for several hours. I am not a fan of windy days on any occasion, but in the trailer I HATE the wind. Brad took mercy on me and sent me to a local coffee shop where I could ride out the worst of it without actually feeling like I was RIDING IT, as they did back at home. The wind was so intense, that even as I hopped into our truck to leave the campsite, a gust caught me with the truck door open. I had the door handle in my hand, but even pulling AS HARD AS I COULD, I could not close the truck door until the whirling-dusty-gust had stopped. As the stinging wind battered me and the open vehicle, I had half a thought that if I released the door handle, the truck door might be ripped off it’s hinges. I’m not sure that’s actually true, but I know for a fact that every inch of our truck cab & every item inside was COVERED with a layer of dust thanks to this ill-timed entrance, as well as my ears, eyes, nose, and scalp. This was extra-unfortunately since we were boon docking, so water conservation patterns were in effect.

The wind was blowing right against the side of our slide. Each gust would make the entire slide rock back & forth in it’s place. Every time the upper edge rocked in, dust would puff inside. We stuffed towels along the juncture to try to stop some of the incoming, airborne dirt.
Dust came into every crack and crevice of Stumbo. Corners looked like this…
Windows looked like this…
Our brand new step covers after the dust storm.

Once the Waldroops headed back to Oklahoma we spent a little bit more time in the free BLM parking lot that we called home this week. Still aglow from all the conversation and fun, I felt emboldened to say hello to my neighbor when I saw that it was a young couple. I went and introduced myself and learned that they were a newly-wedded couple who had launched in their RV full time the week after they got married. He does computer coding and she teaches English online, and we spent 2 really fun evenings hanging out and talking with them. The most interesting thing, though, was that he was the 1st person we’d ever met who was a 2nd generation full time RV’er. He spent 2 years living in an RV with his family of 6 when he was in high school. He really didn’t have the greatest things to say about the experience, but still chose it for himself again as an adult. As we talked about it, Brad & I slowly came to realize that this “childhood experience” was only about 5 years ago. We had such a wonderful time chatting with them, and as is true with many of the people we meet, we hope that at some point we will cross paths with them again since we became fast friends. However, a unique realization came over me as we spent time with them over the course of a couple of evenings…maybe we should have invited our girls to come along instead of putting them to bed first..because I think that these sweet young people were closer to Sunny’s age than to mine…

1 Comment

  1. marie says: Reply

    i’m jealous of those Junior Ranger badges!

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