Wednesday, May 18, 2016

San Antonio, TX to Carlsbad, NM

The Journey

One-day drive. 
One day for touring Carlsbad National Park.

The Route 
San Antonio, TX > Hwy 90 to Sanderson, TX Hwy 285 to Carlsbad, NM

 Soon after leaving San Antonio on Hwy 90, you enter vast Texas plains and ranch country. Hundreds of cattle, and the occasional horse and elk, will cross your path along the way.  We even saw two wild boar alongside the road but were not fast enough to catch a picture.

Small-town road signs along the way, like this one in Hondo, TX, will occasionally remind you that you haven't totally left civilization.

You will also see evidence of the wind that sweeps over these wide Western plains.

*A dust devil hard at work in a farm near Uvalde, TX

  From Uvalde to Del Rio, waves begin to form in the road as you approach the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico.

You also know you are approaching Mexico by the noticeable presence of US Border Patrol.  We felt like we had entered a police state as we passed a border patrol truck about every mile for over fifty miles.  We were briefly stopped at a mandatory security checkpoint, where we must have seemed pretty innocently American since the Border Patrol officer didn't check our ID's or search our car, but simply told us to have a nice day.

In Del Rio, 150 miles from San Antonio, we found the Rio Grande, which forms the natural border between the US and Mexico.  When you first find it, it is a serene, blue river guarded only by green vegetation along the banks, sloping up to the nearby mountains on the Mexican side.  From our vantage point, there was no obstruction preventing a good swimmer from traveling across to (or from) the other bank.  But as you progress West of Del Rio, the river digs into the earth deep below carved canyon walls.

We passed through a nearly extinct trading post town high above the Rio Grande.  The post office provided evidence there was still an adequate population spread among the endless surrounding hills.

We crossed the International Amistad Reservoir parallel to an old rusty train track.  The blue waters had pooled in some areas and receded in others to leave dry, dusty river beds.

For a stretch of several hundred miles, the only town you will pass through is Sanderson, TX.  This town, better defined as a crossroads, is home to a gas station and a few motels.  You better fill up your tank here! 

From Sanderson, you veer away from the Mexican border and travel Northwest for many miles through mountains before landing in Fort Stockton, TX.

A unique statue greets you as you pass through Fort Stockton, TX.  Paisano Pete, as a matter of fact, is the largest road runner in the world.

As the sun set between Fort Stockton and Pecos, TX we began to see evidence of the Black Gold that has made many Texas millionaires.

Pecos, TX holds a special place in Texas and American history as home to the first rodeo, held on The 4th of July in 1883 at Buck Jackson Arena.

We pressed northwest from Pecos, and passed hundreds of gas flares as we moved from Texas into New Mexico.

After a much-needed night of rest in the quiet little town of Carlsbad, we entered Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  The drive to the caverns provides several neat sights, culminating with a panoramic view of the New Mexico plains near the elevated natural entrance to the caverns.

We entered the Caverns through the Natural Entrance, where swarms of birds (by day) and bats (by night) guard the entrance, circling and keeping watch over this other world.
*Before your eyes adjust, this is your view of what you are descending into.

*From just inside, here is a view of the light spilling in from the natural entrance.  Slowly, as you descend further, this light is extinguished.

Two disclaimers before you view more photos of Carlsbad:

First, Ansel Adams, the famed and accomplished photographer of America's National Parks, was never pleased with his pictures of Carlsbad Caverns.  In his view, photographs do not capture the otherworldly vastness and eeriness of the caverns that are only experienced when you are actually there.
*Ansel Adams photo circa 1941

Second, there is an elevator which takes visitors to the Big Room, the largest accessible chamber in the caverns.  If you have the stamina to travel the over 80 stories (and several miles) deep into the earth (and to ascend back out) from the Natural Entrance, then skip the elevator.  Otherwise, you will miss many of the wonders of this cave system

 Ansel Adams said this of Carlsbad Caverns.  "It is 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."

*A view, not far from the natural entrance, toward Bat Cave.  If you are lucky enough to be in this spot at sunset, you will have thousands of bats fly over head as they exit the caverns to night hunt.

*The path got a little tight here

*An attempt to capture a picture of my wife with massive stalactites in the Big Room behind her.  The aptly named Big Room is larger than six football fields.

*Observing a stalactite and stalagmite slowly, slowly coming together.  Perhaps I'll return in four or five decades to see if they have made contact yet.

*A pool of water on the floor of the cavern, glowing green from its sulphuric content.  This is handy for the prehistoric microbe residents that breathe sulfur instead of oxygen (in a reversal of our biology, oxygen is their byproduct as carbon dioxide is ours).

*The picture doesn't quite capture the vastness of these stalagmites

*These thin stalactites are still forming as calcite is dissolved by water seeping from the ground above, and deposited at the tips of these dripstones.

The climb back out of Carlsbad Caverns is quite a workout.  My wife decided to make it tougher by running a large portion of it!

 *She's up ahead, approaching the light from the world above.

*We made it out, and she wanted to run more.  I don't know why she's smiling.

Stay tuned as we travel west from Carlsbad, NM to Flagstaff, AZ.  On this route, we will visit Roswell, NM, the Very Large Array (looking deep, deep, deep into space), Petrified National Forest, and (standing on a corner in) Winslow, AZ.


  1. Great tour from TX to the Caverns. Almost felt like we were there. Looking forward to more. Take care.

  2. You both look like tiny children in those big old caverns! I felt like I was there, too. I don't like the dark in those caves! Or the bats!!!

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