Bats and Aliens

bat caveDays 5 and 6 (June 23 & 24)

It’s not what you want to hear first thing in the morning: A water main burst in the bathrooms during the night, the ceiling collapsed, and there are no facilities available at the campground. So half asleep and desperate for a toilet, we bundled ourselves out of the Carlsbad RV Park and into nearby Happy’s Restaurant, a diner filled with yellow smiley-face memorabilia. There’s a forced optimism in the Southwest: lots of streets named after the sun, and now this kitsch klatch. Double bummer since we’d paid extra to stay in a little cabin with AC for the pets to escape the 100-degree heat in while we checked out Carlsbad Caverns. Now we’re on the road without even a shower.

Sunny smiles and dark mysteries: Yesterday we did Roswell and the caverns. The Roswell UFO Museum is a ramshackle affair: partitioned cubicles displaying letters, newspapers, bad artwork, and lots of conspiracy theories — kind of like a permanent school science fair. I was not convinced. But we got a great addition to the refrigerator magnets we’re sticking on the walls of the van: a mommy, daddy, and kid alien in front of a crashed flying saucer, with the words “Family Vacation Roswell, New Mexico.” That’s us.

The caverns were spectacular: one humungous stalagmite, delicately draped grotto, and symphony of soda strawsStalagmite after another. We only had time for the Big Room and the bat flight, but that was enough. I actually found myself battling Stendhal Syndrome, so overwhelmed by the beauty around us that my senses started shutting down and I couldn’t take in much more. The Big Room has been well developed since it was first discovered just a century ago. Elevators drop 750 feet; the abyss houses lit walkways, bathrooms, and even a restaurant. It takes more than an hour to walk around, and thank guide there were trails, as I would have been completely lost. We kept imagining what it was like for discoverer Jim White and the other early explorers, navigating with torches and ropes, not knowing if it was day or night, stormy or sunny.

I got actual chills when the bats started pouring out of the giant gaping mouth of the cave — 300,000 of them. That’s right, 300,000. Almost every summer night, they circle the entrance counter-clockwise seven times, then head off to southern springs for their first drink of the day/night. Presumably, their bathrooms were working.

Yesterday was our last day of sightseeing before two days of hard driving to reach Florida. That means no visiting in Texas or Louisiana, sadly. We’ve dawdled enough. Cole can barely wait to see his sisters and friends in Miami! Me too.liontails

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