Every friend and family member that has come to visit us here in the Land of Enchantment wants to know about … or go to … Carlsbad. And who can blame them? Carlsbad Caverns is known worldwide (and the nearly 400,000 people a year who visit attest to that!) and it is surprising to me the number of people I encounter who live in New Mexico that have never visited Carlsbad. I have to admit this was my first trip and it won’t be my last.
Carlsbad is a great community with lots t o do outside of the Caverns, which I’ll talk about in a minute or so. The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens State Park is a State Park that really is something to stop and see. The State has encompassed the Chihuahuan Desert into the park. All kinds of plants and vegetation truly do take you down into Mexico.
And the Zoo puts you up close and personal with the wildlife throughout the area. Buffalo, Elk, Bald and Golden Eagles, Badgers, Snakes (and a nasty rattle snake who wasn’t very happy to see us!) and lots more. Speaking of seeing a lot more … check out the wolf pack. Talk about getting up close and personal you’ll have a great walk around viewing area to see these magnificent animals in their element. All confined in areas that are easily accessible and viewable. I thought we’d spend about an hour there looking around and it was much closer to a half day. The staff was incredible and helpful in answering our questions and encouraging us to just walk about and see all there is to see.
Ken Britt, the park Superintendent, and his staff warned us that the park is much larger than your first impression would suggest. Ken is a great guy and reflects the helpful attitude of his staff. He really showed us how to immerse ourselves in this incredible landscape and prepared us for the many acres and room to roam and it doesn’t feel as confined as most zoos I’ve visited.
As soon as you walk outside of the Visitor’s Center you really are immersed! You do feel as if you are in the wild and the walking paths give you much more reason to believe that to be so. At the end of your trip back at the visitors’ center you’ll be ready to have a cool drink, sit down for a minute and ask more questions of the staff. This wonderful state park is located just a couple miles North of Carlsbad ll. Just about 10 minutes or less from downtown.
Right next door is the Ocotillo Nature Trail where our canine pal, Travelin’ Jack, showed us around. I have to admit that Janine and I had stopped here several months before this visit on our initial exploration trip to Carlsbad. We had our Labrador, Titan, along with us and he had as much fun on his hike as did Jack! If you’re in to cacti and want to see hundreds of acres of Ocotillo then this is the place to visit. Janine and I were fortunate enough to see these amazing (and not to be touched … OUCH!) plants in bloom. On this trip the fog had us wondering if we’d see much at all. The morning was quiet and peaceful as it always seems to be here and the walk was great. About half way through a “breeze” (that’s what we call them in New Mexico!) picked up and within, literally, two minutes the fog was gone, the sun was out, and the Ocotillo were watching us from every direction. Even in winter these amazing plants somehow grab your imagination and just, sort of, move you along the path. This is an easy hike with benches along the way to give you time to rest or reflect. I don’t know who came up with the idea of putting this trail here, but whomever it was should get a big award for doing so. Just a great place to stop along your busy schedule in Carlsbad to check out scenery and once again count your blessings that you truly are in the Land of Enchantment.
Paula Bauer, the Management Assistant and Carlsbad Caverns National Park … more commonly known as Carlsbad Caverns, really loves her job and that came through loud and clear as she took a great deal of time from her busy day to show us around and explain the difference between a stalactite and stalagmite! The caverns are simply magnificent and, quite honestly, the video we shot and pictures we too just don’t do justice to what you actually see. The main cavern … located about 700 feet below ground …is over 60 feet high. That’s the equivalent of a six story building! The walking trails are easy to maneuver through and you can do this on your own with an audio tour or take a guided tour complete with lantern and hard hat tours where you can crawl around through “tight” passages and really explore the caverns. I had always thought that you only see lions tails on lions in a zoo. Never expected to see them hanging from the ceiling of the caverns, but there they were! Now you’ll just have to pay a visit to Carlsbad Caverns and see them for yourself. Oh … and have lunch 752 feet BELOW ground!
I’ve wracked my brain to come up with words worthy of what you see at Carlsbad. I think we all have expectations before we enter the Caverns. And the expectations are undoubtedly different for each of us. My guess is that the expectations are far exceeded once you exit the elevator … or walk down through the main entrance and open your eyes to what is really in store for you. You can easily spend a whole day leisurely walking around underground and with every turn see something you never thought you’d see.
As I’m writing this I’m watching a Randy Travis Christmas Special on television, which was shot entirely in the Caverns! Choir members are walking along the paths singing and wonderful songs from Randy Travis. It’s tough to write because I’m mesmerized by what I’m watching and remembering just how magical Carlsbad Caverns is. But it is just that magical and I think if I could carry a tune I would have sung my way through the entire length of the Caverns myself!
I’m going to go back and corral Paula into taking me into the Caverns again to see what we missed the first time around!
As mentioned above, Janine and I were first in Carlsbad in the summer and spent a couple hours just on a leisurely walk along the river walk next to the Pecos River. The homes are magnificent and the river full of summer life with boating and swimming. The transformation between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is really remarkable. The majority of the people who live on the river really outdo themselves with Christmas cheer. It seems as if every home is decorated and the yards are aglow with Christmas lights and decorations. We even saw the Grinch on a HUGE inflatable television that someone had erected in their yard! Christmas on the Pecos is the big annual event in Carlsbad and this 50 minute boat ride (free blankets provided to keep you warm) leaves you yearning for more.
Our director, Chuck, has been trying for six years to get me here to see this and I’m glad he was so persistent. The night of our ride was unseasonably chilly but you soon forgot that once you started looking around and seeing the beauty of the night created by the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau. These folks, I’m sure, are already planning next year’s event … one that you most definitely will want to share with your family!
And who would think of waterfalls in the desert of New Mexico … not me, that’s for sure! But about a ½ drive from Carlsbad is Sitting Bull Falls. It is a sight to see and my recommendation is go in late spring or summer so you and the kids can have a blast playing in the river and around the falls. Enough said … out of that easy chair and get on the road!
As we always try to do, we stayed at the Best Western Stevens Inn at Carlsbad and the folks in Carlsbad’s largest hotel were incredible in helping us during our stay. I know they’ll do a great job during your stay as well.
So, here’s to Carlsbad, a place in the Southeast part of New Mexico that is filled with wonders of every type you can imagine and a great place for a great long weekend getaway.