Ever been? If not, you should. It is an other-world type of experience. It is like no other. I have been in a few other caves before and this one is definitely the best. (I say that knowing I have never been truly spelunking before, though I did get to go through the New Cave at Carlsbad when I was a teen and it was a whole lot more difficult than the cavern.)
Start out by going the night before you plan to hike the cavern. Go visit the bats. It is free, but even if it weren’t, your ticket for the cavern is good for 3 days. There will be a ranger who will talk a bit about the bats and answer questions until the bats begin to come out. When they begin to move, the ranger turns off his microphone and everyone sits still and just watches and listens. The giggly girls, who are almost never still, sat still and quiet with grins on their faces. The night we were there it was a good exit. Some nights are better than others. We watched until there were almost no bats coming out. By then, most of the rest of the folks had gotten up and started moving around so the girls were a bit more restless.
We viewed the entrance to the cave and talked about going down the next morning. We chatted with a ranger a bit. And then – as we were turning to walk back – there was the tarantula. Big and hairy just walking down the path. The girls were mesmerized. Especially J. At 4, she loves bug and spiders and grasshoppers and all that. She kept wanting to get really close. Luckily, she didn’t learn about how painful the little hairs are that they release if you touch them or how much their bite hurts if you try to pick them up. She did have lots of questions, though. We may just have to do a study on spiders. (shivers are going up my spine but it is these teachable moments, right?)
The next day, we went back mid-morning to hike the cave. One of our perks heading out there that morning was to get to see a herd of big horn sheep coming down a hillside and grazing in a meadow. I had never seen that many together before and the girls had never seen them before. I love moments like that which cannot be planned or dreamed of. The wonder in their voices was sweet to hear.
The girls picked up junior ranger packets to fill out as they went along and we started off. The first part was lots of fun because they had seen it the night before. The enjoyed that part. When we got to the really steep part, J was already tired and it was hard to hike down the wet, steep path holding her in the semi-darkness. Every once in a while, she would pick up her head and see something and really enjoy it. L seemed to have the most fun and enjoy the formations the most. She was very alert, very observant. She held her own and enjoyed the time. E didn’t enjoy the hiking very much. I think she would have been happier had we ridden the elevator down to the big room and just seen that. All in all, I am glad we hiked it and saw all that we did. The girls did a good job, considering they hiked about 2 1/2 miles on rough terrain. To describe the cavern is just impossible. It is like nothing you can see at the surface. It is awe inspiring and majestic and beautiful. Our Lord made some pretty amazing things that you have to hike down a long way to see. Some of the highlights would be the Rock of Ages, Mirror Lake, and Fairyland. Of course, maybe that is just because that is what I can remember the names of. The whale’s mouth was pretty cool, too.
After we got done, we took the elevator back up to the surface and found some lunch there. While we ate, the girls finished their packets and we took them to the desk on our way out. The ranger checked them over to make sure they had completed the necessary activities. She filled out the certificate and gave the girls their patches. We grabbed some books for additional souvenirs and headed out. I found “Caves” and “Zipping Zapping Zooming Bats” for the girls and the biography of Jim White for Joe and I. (Jim White is the man who discovered and promoted Carlsbad Cavern.) This first field trip was successful, in my opinion. The girls learned quite a bit about caves and bats and the desert, I think, and got to see the deep down dark of a cavern. Their vacation books were beginning to fill up with observations and information. That makes me smile and I am enjoying looking at what they drew and wrote now that we are back. At Home.