Sunday, June 17, 2018

March 1 - Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Our last full day in Big Bend wasn't really exciting and not worthy of a separate blog post. We did a little birding and got everything ready to go so we could get an early start in the morning. Our next stop would be the Carlsbad, New Mexico area so we could visit Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks. We left the campsite before sunrise, but before we got out of the park the sky began to turn color. We found a safe place to pull over and spent about half an hour enjoying the sunrise and early morning light.

Our next camping spot was Brantley Lake State Park, just outside of Carlsbad. We arrived mid afternoon, got set up, and headed towards the lake to check out the birding situation. There were quite a few birds, but nothing we didn't already have. I did manage to get a better photo of one of the new birds we picked up at Big Bend - a Say's Phoebe.

Say's Phoebe
The following day, we headed to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. There's more to the park than just the caverns, so we first stopped at the Rattlesnake Springs area to do some early morning birding. It did turn out to be a good birding spot, and I managed to get a bad shot of another new bird - a Bewick's Wren. This would be the last new bird of the trip, but I came away with 24 new ones which brought my total to 293 species since I began birding in 2011.

We got to the caverns about mid morning and decided to do the hike in from the main entrance, then take the elevator back out. I think this added up to about a 2.5 mile hike on the paved path which included the entire Big Room. I was surprised that they allowed us to bring our tripods in. The caverns are lit, but getting a correctly exposed shot without using the flash required 2-4 second exposures on average. I didn't see anyone else using a tripod and several people commented that they wished they had brought in theirs.

As with most natural wonders, words and photos do not describe how incredible the caverns are. I included the path and railings in some of the shots which helps to give some size perspective. Some of the 'rooms' we passed through are huge, and the Big Room is just beyond words. If you get a chance to go and can't do the hike in, take the elevator down to the Big Room and do as much of that as you can. It's worth the price of admission on it's own.

Below is a sampling of the photos I took. The lighting they have is kind of orange and not very natural, so I've toned that down a bit. I'm not really sure what colors the formations really are.

We finished touring the caverns around mid afternoon, so we still had time to take the one way gravel tour road that starts close to the parking area and ends on the access road leading up to the parking area. It was interesting, but nothing spectacular. After this, we headed back to the camp site.