Cross Country 2

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

In an earlier entry, I wrote about our cross country trip this summer from Phoenix, Arizona back to Maryland. After our stop in Roswell, we headed further east, to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The roads up the mountain are switchbacks, and so we took the winding route slowly, marveling at the pretty view. But I have to say, the top of the mountain could not compare to what was underneath.

To get to the caverns, we bought tickets and took the elevator down 750 feet into the heart of the mountain.The elevator let us out into a wide hollow space, a kind of cave lobby that housed the food stand and the restrooms. From there, we followed the signs to the “big room.” Let me say right here that the sign makers at the national park service are masters of understatement. When I think of the words “big room” what comes to mind is maybe a banquet hall in some hotel, or, if I’m in an expansive mood, possibly even the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall, which can seat more than two thousand. What I don’t think of is something big enough to house six football fields! But that’s the big room we walked into, a magnificent cave that felt like we had taken an elevator to another planet.

Like an underground palace, the cavern was full of ornate domes and hanging stone lace, the ground studded with clusters of what they call cave pearls. I found it incredible that under the mostly nondescript hills this other world exists in the dark. So fascinating, too, to see the patterns that recur in the world – in many places, the stone fell in folds like underwater plants. And like clouds, the stalactites and stalagmites suggest a million familiar forms to the imagination: a seabird’s wing in flight, a young girl’s face. You don’t expect to be dazzled in the dark, but at Carlsbad, we were. In our earlier stop at Roswell, we’d joked to each other that we were going to explore other worlds. We never expected that at Carlsbad, we really would.

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