Saturday, May 25, 2019

Carlsbad Caverns, NM: Day 8 Cross-Country Florida > PNW

Grand entrance to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico. What you can't see is the swallows zipping in and out of the cave.
Carlsbad Caverns! 

Both Wayne and I were excited to see this incredible National Park for the first time.  Early American humorist Will Rogers described its magnificence as the "[Grand Canyon] with a roof on it."
Carlsbad Caverns, NM. Looking back towards the entrance from just inside the first cavern.
Within an hour and a half of pushing out of San Angelo Texas we left the rain and flash floods the plagued the area behind. Tornadoes touched down a number of areas nearby but not where we were. Those tornado warnings worked where they needed to -- no fatalities. 
A series of saltwater lakes an hour or two before arriving at Carlsbad Caverns caught our eye. This particular one, just below one of many industrial trains cross-crossing the land was an unusual shade of green. The others were less dramatic, but clearly identifiable by the crust of salt along their shore. In case there was any doubt, we passed a salt processing facility.
Once we left Texas Hill Country, we saw oodles of oil rigs dotting the otherwise mostly barren landscape. Had we not spent so many miles driving vast stretches of unpopulated Australia, this part of the USA would've seemed like it was hell and gone from anywhere. Instead it was comparatively a walk in the park as there was always some small town within a few hours drive. 
One of many oil well pumps taken through our car window as we whizzed past. We saw them until Utah.
Eventually we approached the overpriced town of Carlsbad, then "White City,"* then Carlsbad Caverns. 

*White City, population seven, was named for Jim White, one of Carlsbad Cavern's best known early explorers.
Ladders early Carlsbad Cavern explorers used.
Today many portions of the caves are wheelchair friendly.
Carlsbad Caverns inspired us to finally purchase an annual National Parks Pass. Another two National Park visits within the year and the pass would pay for itself. We slated stops for Black Canyon of the Gunnison Arches and Canyonlands and with a loop into the Southwest this fall after Labor Day, taking in the Grand Canyon with hiking/backpacking and camping gear and without a carload of our move possessions. 
One of many naturally sculpted caverns with the cavern known as Carlsbad Caverns.
It's amazing what limestone, water and sulphur dioxide can do to an ancient fossilized seabed floor. To me it's just as stunning  that Carlsbad Cavern's magic still stands four million years after the cave's creation process stopped -- a treasure we and so many others had the privilege and good fortune to explore. 
Green Lake Room, Carlsbad Caverns. I took the cavern images in this post with my camera, without a flash.
The park website explains how these caves formed....
"Between four and six million years ago, hydrogen-sulfide-rich (H2S) waters began to migrate through fractures and faults in the Capitan limestone. This water mixed with rainwater moving downward from the surface. When the two waters mixed, the H2S combined with the oxygen carried by the rainwater and formed sulfuric acid (H2SO4). This acid dissolved the limestone along fractures and folds in the rock to form Carlsbad Cavern."
I imagined some grand dinosaur opening its great maw when I saw these long,
sharp-looking stalactites in Carlsbad Caverns.
We took the self-guided tour, by foot, to see as much as we could in a relatively short stretch of time. We still spent a couple hours marveling in the 2 1/2 or so mile walk.
Fairyland as this section of the caverns is called is not something I could dream up! A dispensary would do a brisk business if there was one near Carlsbad Caverns. Recreational marijuana is not legal in New Mexico.
We agree with Jim White's assessment of the caverns....

“I shall never forget the feeling of aweness it gave me … the beauty, the weirdness, the grandeur and the omniscience absolved my mind of all thoughts of a world above — I forgot time, place and distance.” 

I'm sure we are not alone. All but a few of the caverns explorers were quiet, speaking rarely, in hushed voices if at all. We quickly put distance between us and explorers who were noisy or used additional light or flash. We only had to do that a few times.
One of the few places in Carlsbad Caverns where we saw water.
The cavern air was not even remotely moist. 
These "folds" are often referred to as draperies.
They reminded me of tropical trees or waterfalls topped by broccolini buds.
From the national parked's website, a few more tidbits
  • Carlsbad Caverns was made a national park on May 14, 1930
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park covers a total area of 46,766 acres
  • The number of people visiting Carlsbad Caverns in 2017 was 520,026 *
  • The lowest elevation found in Carlsbad Caverns is 3,596 feet at Black River
  • The highest elevation found in Carlsbad Caverns is 6,535 feet on Guadalupe Ridge
  • The caves in Carlsbad Caverns are 56°F throughout the year, with high humidity.
  • At present there are 117 known caves in the park, and more will be discovered. The cave known as Carlsbad Cavern is only one of these.
  • The Big Room in Carlsbad Caverns, at 8.2 acres, is the largest accessible cave chamber in North America.
  • Although Carlsbad Caverns is rightly known for its famous caves, there are also more than 50 miles of aboveground trails that explore the desert landscape.
  • There are at least 17 species of bats found in the park. The most common are Brazilian (sometimes called Mexican) free-tailed bats; they can be seen exiting Carlsbad Cavern each night.
* Complete annual visitation stats can be found at Carlsbad Caverns Visitation Statistics

Mexican Freetailed are the primary bats in Carlsbad Caverns, though 17 kinds live there.
We took the elevator out. We've heard the dusk "bat show" at Carlsbad is even more spectacular than Austin's. However, we needed to log some more miles and planned to arrive in Roswell New Mexico before dark.
White City's fuel sign also alludes to Carlsbad Cavern's bats.
BEsides the caves, the park boasts a nice interpretive center, and hiking trails. The native landscape was lovely and rife with wildflowers when we were there. 
A strong a chilling wind as much as the pressure to hit the road curtailed my wildflower photography at Carlsbad.
These cacti flowers, unlike the others we saw, were able to hold steady in the wind.
Wandering the park without taking the cavern tour is free. If you're able to set aside more time to enjoy the are than we did -- do!

Location Location

Still catching up on blog posts. Today is Saturday, Memorial weekend. We're in Irrigon, Oregon, visiting friends. We're just under 200 miles to returning home, in Portland. We'll be there today.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Texas Hill & Dale & Tornadoes: Day 6 Florida > PNW

Hippie Hollow is a local Austin Texas favorite swimming hole.
It was a little too chilly to swim but still pleasant to hang out at.
We stalled a little bit in the morn of our sixth day of cross-country travel, from Florida to the Pacific Northwest.Stalling is easy to do when you’re feeling lazy, and are blessed with a comfortable bed and a free hotel breakfast. 

We were hankering for Hippie Hollow swimming hole, about a 45-minute drive out of Austin Texas. Getting there too early didn’t make sense.

Turns out due to all the wet weather and flooding that’s plagued the Central States in recent weeks, Hippie Hollow's water level was quite high. That, coupled with a brisk wind, slippery rocks at the shoreline’s entry point and taking our cues from the locals, we didn’t dip in after all. Instead we made use of the blanket we brought “just in case” and lounged on the shore, relaxing for a good hour plus before we hit the road. We did see two locals gingerly wading thigh-high in the water on the way out, but that was it.
The Texas highways we drove were fairly consistently bordered by wildflowers in bloom.
Here in Hill Country there were trees, too.
 After Hippie Hollow, we just needed to burn some miles. 

Our goal the following day was to get to Carlsbad Caverns no later the mid-afternoon. Driving to Carlsbad from Hippie Hollow in mid-afternoon would make for a late arrival.We might’ve considered pushing to Carlsbad, but lodgings were expensive there. There were only two small hotels for less than $100. Even the Hampton started at $287. 

Between Hippie Hollow and Carlsbad, there wasn’t a whole lot of options.   

 All we needed was a place to rest our heads and a grocery store for dinner and restocking, closer to Carlsbad than Hippie Hollow. San Angelo Texas looked like our most affordable in-between option.

Along the way, we continued to stay off the interstates as much as possible, taking in small town main streets whenever we could as well as getting whatever sense we could of life in the many blink-and-you’ll-miss-it towns that we could at the prescribed speed limits, unless we had a reason to stop.
A nice bit of architecture in Llano,Texas, serving as the county courthouse, completed in 1893.
Neither of us had ever traveled through Texas hill country before. Given we had no expectations for it, we were all the more pleasantly surprised with the area’s simple beauty. Rolling hills, trees, a generous sprinkling of wildflowers, small town Main Streets (the ones we didn’t miss) with well-preserved buildings from 1800s. Thanks to the rains, the countryside glowed spring green.
A closer look at Llano Texas courthouse clock tower.
Llano Texas, for example, was established in 1856 and served primarily as a frontier trading center, It evolved into a ranching and farming community. We liked the architecture and decided it was worth a brief stop.

As convenient and helpful as Waze and GoogleMaps directions are, if any knows of an app out there designed to route you through rather than around small town center Main Streets let us know! We can play with the apps to go with shortest rather than fastest route, but that’s still no guarantee the app will take us where we want to go.

Many a time we felt frustrated that our apps were navigating us around Main Streets, probably because that route might take longer due to a stoplight or two. We realized we'd been route away from town centers after we passed them. 
Butcher and deer processing store in a small town in Hill Country Texas.
Impressive mural quality for such a small town.
Those few super small towns that are resourceful and creative enough to offer more than General Dollar Store of Family Dollar Store often offer unique combination businesses that would be unlikely to occur elsewhere. The general store, butcher and “process your deer here” (pictured above) was less of a stretch than most. I wasn’t quick enough to take a photo of the storefront as we zipped past; the  mural on the side of that retail shop was surprisingly beautiful.

We knew before we left Austin, there were tornado warnings throughout a broad swath of the Central Southeast, including San Angelo. Fortunately we made to San Angelo before the weather hit.
This H.E.B. market store brand display for their ice cream made me smile.
Also, fortuitously, there was an H.E.B. market in town. We discovered H.E.B. in Austin. They’re part of the Kroger chain (like Fred Meyer aka "Freddies" in the Pacific Northwest), so they’re well stocked with some affordable options, especially store-branded items for budget shoppers like us. H.E.B. also carried a good range of regional favorites and a healthy food options. Wayne spotted  a Southwestern shrimp / salsa / avocado salad that was enough for 2 ½ servings.
Kolaches are a food we kept coming across in Texas. They seem like what as a kid the school cafeteria called pigs-in-a-blanket -- hot dogs baked into a bready wrap.  Most of the kolaches I saw were three times as much bread
as the meat filling (they had other meat "fillings" besides hot dogs). We didn't try them.
We also didn't expect this area that seemed to exist primarily for the oil industry to also be a college town. Not much of a college town, but a college town nonetheless.

We were a bit less fortunate with our room. The price was low and true to the reviews, which warned the motel was less than fastidiously clean. Other than the exceedingly low bar set for ugliness in d├ęcor at the Eagles Nest in Concrete Washington, our room boasted the ugliest hotel couch and mirror and bed we’ve even seen in a hotel. At least we had a couch; most rooms don’t.
We always appreciate rooms that offer a couch, though this one was pretty darned ugly.
We settled in for a good night’s sleep but it was not to be. Both our phones went off four times each with local tornado emergency alert warnings between 4:20 and 6:30 am. I had the wherewithal in my groggy state to pull out my laptop and Google on my laptop for the local tornado specifics and what to do if a tornado hit. The wind was not tornado strength by us (we have some idea what strong winds sound like from sailing halfway around the world), and the bed was far from the room’s window and door. Had it got a bit worse, we could’ve gotten more shelter in the bathroom, but it didn’t come to that.
The hotel mirror "matched" the couch in style; definitely not our style.

Breakfast was well-rated and complimentary at the restaurant that shared the same building as the hotel. However the restaurant was packed plus several tables waiting so we skipped the freebies because getting miles was more important in starting our day than a leisurely breakfast in a restaurant crowded enough to give us both claustrophobia.

Besides, we figured the sooner we got going, the sooner we could put some distance between us and the storm area. Within about an hour and a half, we drove into much better weather. Carlsbad awaited....

Note: We are currently in Price Utah. I am catching up on the posts of our daily cross-country travels.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Weather Surprise! Day 8 Cross Country Road Trip, FL > PNW

Fortunately, we arrived before most of this snow fell. Larkspur, Colorado.
Still catching up on road trip blog posts but for the next day or two more focussed on catching up with family.

Yesterday early eve we arrived at my brother and sister-in-law's in Larkspur Colorado. 

When we left Palm Bay Florida, a little over a week ago, we were loading up our car and dragging a recliner downstairs to put by the "free" bin in 93 degree heat and humidity.

What a change over a week's travel!

Yesterday we drove through the start of a late May snowstorm; temps dropped down to 32 degrees F. The weather is 30 degrees below normal for this time here. Definitely not what we expected when we planned this trip.

Can't deny the snow is pretty, though. Good weather to hunker with family.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Batty About Austin Texas -- Day 5 Cross-Country from Florida to the Pacific Northwest

Something along this lines of this Earl McGehee image  is what we were hoping to see in Austin Texas.
On Day Five of our semi-leisurely drive cross-country, we entered the vast state of Texas while the day was still young. 

In some ways, state lines seem like such arbitrary boundaries when traveling across the states. Yet there are some changes we notice immediately, and ponder what they tell us about the differences between these United States.

Entering Texas, for example, you are greeted by a large and well-appointed Welcome Station, and there is usually a noticeable improvement in the roads compared to Texas' less well funded neighbors, Mississippi and New Mexico, both of which are among the USA's poorest states.
This tractor slowed (viewed through our Prius windshield) our trip along a Texas highway.
Fortunately, we weren't behind it for long.
Tractors or not, our drive for the day was an easy one. We were bound for Austin, as Wayne agreed to indulge my curiosity. 
We had lots of good company there to see Austin's famed bats. Here, we looked up at the Congress Bridge
from below. The bats nest below the bridge from March through October.
It was about sixteen years ago when I met someone from Austin at a Portland Oregon conference who asked if I'd ever heard about Austin's massive bat population. At the time, I hadn't. It turns out, Austin is the home of the largest urban bat population in the world.
Other folks who shared our vantage point below Austin's Congress Street Bridge for bat viewing.
In more recent years, I'd heard Austin's job market was thriving and the city rivaled Portland Oregon's vibrant culture. Wayne has also never been to Austin.

We needed to spend the eve in Austin as that's when the bats emerged after dusk, in masses up to 1.5 million to help rid the city of its insect population. Austin's learned to capitalize on this bizarre natural phenomenon to the tune of $7.9 million annually in increased tourism, though at their peak the bats can still outnumber the residents. The Austin Bat Organization champions these furry winged mammals and does a terrific job of protection them while informing the public. The Austin Bat Refuge Organization also does a great job of informing bat viewers. For a great giggle as well as some pragmatic advice, be sure to scroll down the page to read "a semi-tongue-in-cheek rant by an Austin Bat Refuge docent."
This bat mural is one of many signs of Austin's capitalizing on the mystique of its seasonal furry flying population.
In our case, we arrived on a delightfully balmy night early enough to find a decent parking space and a good place to watch the action. Along the way we roller-coastered our way through Austin's hills, as we passed an inviting array of shops and restaurants. We chose the knoll below bridge level, where the Austin skyline light purportedly made the bat flight more visible as dusk shifted into darkness. Most notable of the building was a Gotham-like building, which we later discovered was the Frost Bank Tower
The iconic Frost Bank Tower,.. both lauded and reviled. It  is, however, a LEED Gold building.
Between those watching from our vantage point, the bridge and the opposite shore, my guess is there were 500 or so folks there to see the spectacle. While we waited, we got a kick out of meeting Andy, who was brandishing a red devil holding a mini mike for Andy's podcaster podcasting podcast. Appropriately, Andy was out for a podcasting convention, and of course, the bats, which he was also podcasting about. We joked about the delay in the show due perhaps to the bats securing an agent, requesting a bigger cut of the revenues they were bringing in. Or perhaps some tastier mosquitoes.
Are we part of Andy's podcaster podcasting podcast? Not sure if we were sufficiently witty.
Andy, however, most definitely is!
Eventually, the bats made their way out from under the bridge, first in a trickle, then a bit more. They were almost a mirage, in ghostly white. Not one of their better showings, but still a fun experience.
 Dan Pancamo's fantastic bat image captures the bat's flight with Austom's iconic
Frost Bank Tower in the background. 
We cruised Austin a bit by night after the show and agreed it would be worth a return visit, with a bigger budget and more time.
Kayakers clustered below the bridge for another fantastic vantage point of Austin's fames bat flight.
We did slip in a visit to the Zilker Botanical Gardens, to get a chance to see at least a little more of Austin before we hit the road. Not sure when we'll be back, but look forward to it.
The prehistoric portion of Zilker Botanical Gardens was my favorite part, complete with horsetails, ferns, cycads
and of course, a dinosaur.
We couldn't figure out what the mass of daddylonglegs spiders were doing beneath this rock in Zilker's
prehistoric garden. Orgy perhaps? They were vibrating. Seriously.
This waterfall was a welcome sight in Zilker Gardens after the weird daddylongleg spider mass.