|November 4th - I woke up early in the morning at my Nine
Point Draw (Big Bend) campsite. Bad weather decided to come in on this day. I
took a quick shower by my vehicle (very cold with the wind!) and after working on my web
pages for a while, I was on the road. I made it to Alpine by 1pm or so and decided
to run some errands. This included a stop into the grocery store to restock food
supplies and finally get some fresh produce. I had my first meal out in a while
(Subway for a veggie sub). After not seeing a fresh vegetable in a while, I guess I
went overboard! Then I decided to see what I could do about updating my web
pages. I stopped in at the Sul Ross State University library in Alpine, TX to
discover that internet access was not accessible for the public. But the friendly
librarian pointed me to a small cybercafe in town called cafe.net, or overland.net.
Who would have
guessed? In a town of 28,000 or so, a cybercafe! I'm not sure, but I don't
think Atlanta has any more cybercafes in business. Anyhow, I stopped in a the
cybercafe and they were extremely accommodating. They even allowing me to plug in to
their network directly, giving me an IP address and all! I spent about an hour
reconfiguring my PC for their network and I was good to go. I uploaded the pages and
downloaded the 50 messages that had piled up while I was in Big Bend for the week and a
half... about half of those were spam messages. uggg... Anyhow, before I knew
it dark was upon me and my coffee cup had run dry, so off it was to Fort Davis State Park
about an hour away. I parked my car at a campsite... I even skipped dinner and just
hit the sack.
November 5th - Ahhhh... a hot shower, finally! I took about a 20
minute shower. I had heard some nice things about Fort Davis Mountains State Park...
too bad I couldn't see it. The weather was still awful and visibility was at about
100 feet. Oh well, time to take care of business. I headed into Fort Davis and
found an RV park with a laundromat. I did my laundry and had a nice conversation
with a man from Missouri who was also doing his laundry. After laundry, it was back
to Alpine, TX. I ran a couple of more errands and then it was off to the Guadelupe
mountains. Too bad I couldn't see them. The weather was even worse now, with a
mist and cold. This is the kind of weather where you just want to sit inside by a
nice warm fire. Really depressing weather. I went over "the pass" as
they call it and turned into the visitors center. Due to the terrible visibility, I
figured I was on top of a mountain (turned out later, the visitor center is quite close to
the desert floor!) I browsed their exhibit and talked to the rangers about
hiking/backpacking, future weather, and camping. They said that there was some BLM
(Bureau of Land Management) land not far from the mountains where the camping was
free. I headed out to the BLM land for the evening and found a nice parking spot on
top of a hill (where I could even get cellular service for checking e-mail!) I fixed
up my truck, made a big batch of chili and headed off to bed.
November 6th - I slept late this morning. Bad weather continues. I
took the chance to catch up on e-mail. Finally, I decided to call the NPS and make
reservations for some wild cave trips that only run on the weekends. Of course, the
weather was supposed to be clear this weekend. Ideally, the weather would have been
crappy on the weekend while caving and good afterwards when I would have a chance to enjoy
the Guadelupe mountains. After reserving my place on some of the wild cave trips, I
headed into the city of Carlsbad, NM to purchase kneepads and batteries for the wild cave
trips. Afterwards, I headed into Carlsbad Caverns National Park. After
browsing the exhibit for a while, I decided to take the Kings Palace Tour (last tour that
day). The tour was great and I got to see some real gems in Carlsbad Caverns.
About 10 years ago, I got caught by the caving bug. Actually, it was my
high school friends who got me into it. Here I am, a freshman in high school.
Two of my great high-school buddies go to the TAG (Tennessee Alabama Georgia) Fall
Cave-in, a caving convention held each year in Valley Head, Alabama. They had such a
good time, I had to listen to them for the next YEAR talk about their times at the
convention. Finally, my sophomore year, I go to the convention. We camped out
at the convention... I hadn't camped out in a long time and I really enjoyed it. And
the caving was a blast as well. I also did my first rappel this weekend (descending
and ascending on a rope using various devices and knots). We go the following year,
and after that, we do a number of trips on our own. This "bug" lasted
throughout my years at Washington University in St. Louis and I ended up doing a number of
caves in Missouri. However, after school, I kinda lost interest. I discovered
that caving can really be a pain in the rear. Every time you go, you have to pull
out your gear, sort things out, make sure everything works. Then you go into a TAG
(Tennessee Alabama or Georgia) cave and get all mudded up. When you get back home,
you have to clean everything. It takes about 2-3 hours just in preparation and
cleanup. Add this to a 3 hour drive up and a 3 hour drive back and you don't have
much time to cave! I do enjoy the caving, but I decided that the preparation/cleanup
was a waste of time and my time was better spent hiking and doing other things... so I
kinda lost interest. But getting back into the caves here was lots of fun and
brought back some good memories.
November 7th - Beautiful weather, finally! I wake up late
(unfortunately) and head out to Guadelupe Mountains National Park and McKittrick Canyon.
The hike was really beautiful, but I didn't have enough time to reach the end of
the trail unfortunately as I was scheduled for a caving trip at 1pm. So I only had
about 2 hours to hike, but the hike was still very nice. Lots of people due to the
nice weather and the fact that it was a weekend. McKittrick Canyon has been called
"the most beautiful" place in Texas. After seeing Big Bend, I can't really
agree, but it is very nice. I actually had the opportunity to catch some fall
colors, in the middle of the desert no less! McKittrick Canyon is formed by the
creek that runs through it. The creek actually flows nearly to the mouth of the
canyon allowing for the abundant vegetation and maple trees to flourish. I'm not
sure I would call it a canyon as the walls are fairly gradual towards the bottom... it
doesn't really have that canyon type feel that I'm used to (sheer walls). It was a
pretty hike, but because of the limited time, I only got to see part of it and I was
rushed and couldn't really enjoy myself as a result. I decided to come back later in
After getting back to my car, I headed out to Slaughter Canyon Cave. I
got there with plenty of time to spare and headed out on the 1/2 mile trail. This
was possibly the most difficult 1/2 mile I have EVER done. 500 foot of elevation
gain. Pretty darn rough. The actual cave itself was really easy. The
path was nearly "paved" and a handheld flashlight is all that is necessary.
I was kind of disappointed by this, but enjoyed hearing about some of the history
of the guano mining that occurred in the cave. The cave also sported some very
impressive big rooms and huge decorated columns.
New Mexico caving is quite different from TAG caving. For example, there
is very little mud. The caves formed in a completely different way than the caves in
TAG or the Missouri area. The caves in TAG usually have running water, which carves
the caves out of limestone over millions of years. Most caves in the TAG area are
still being formed by streams or rivers running through them. In Carlsbad area, the
caves were carved out of an ancient limestone reef by a water/sulfuric acid solution.
Most of the caves in New Mexico don't have running water in them and their main
passages are basically static and unchanging. However, the New Mexico caves have
some incredible features which are hard to find in the Eastern caves. Most notably,
some of the crystal formations (gypsum) are very impressive. One of the worlds most
impressive caves is not but 4 miles from the Carlsbad entrance, and it is on National Park
Land. This cave is called Lechugilla (named after a spiked plant that grows in the
Chuahuan desert) and holds some of the most incredible beauty the caving world has ever
seen. National Geographic did an article on it about 5 years ago with some of the
best cave photography I've ever seen. I should note, that this cave is the Mount
Everest of caving. Multiple vertical drops require extensive rope work and a
multi-day trip is unavoidable to reach some of the most impressive areas of the cave.
The cave is currently up to 99 miles long and is destined to break the 100 mile
mark in the next expedition.
On the way back from Slaughter Canyon Cave, I talked to the rangers about their
experiences in Lechugilla. Talk about this cave was almost enough for me to
recapture that caving bug. Unfortunately, Lechugilla requires a special permit...
basically, to get into Lech (as they call it), you have to know someone who can vouch for
you. I consider my self a very conservation minded caver and I have a good bit over
vertical experience from my high school and college years. However, my caving has
been with friends (who were also very conservation minded). I never got involved
with the people who can get you in to Lechugilla. Perhaps it will remain a dream...
However, me and my fellow caving friends do have one cave we would like to
"conquer" in the near future. The cave is called Ellisons and it holds the
largest pit in the contiguous states, 600 feet. 600 feet of freefall ecstasy, called
Fantastic pit! The cave lies in the middle of Pigeon Mountain in the Northwest
corner of Georgia. We've purchased the rope, we just need to set a date!
November 8th - I decided to hit the rest of Carlsbad Caverns this day.
I headed out to the park from my BLM campsite and decided to complete the Natural
Entrance and Big Room tours. I checked in at the park visitors center and decided to
do the audio selfguided tour. That's why you see me in that goofy picture in front
the the cave entrance... I felt like such a tourist! :-) Anyhow, the
cave was impressive to say the least. The natural entrance tour passed by a unique
formation known as the whales mouth (see picture). The big room was absolutely huge
and held some incredibly impressive formations. There were even some active pools of
water with "cave pearls" in them. One of the interesting parts of the
"audio" guide was the story you got to hear about exploring the upper reaches of
Carlsbad Caverns. In the big room, there were some holes in the ceilings. Some
cavers tend to get these funny ideas about finding more passages up there in these holes
in the ceiling. As it turns out, some of these cavers got a wooden hoop with a rope
attached to it, tied it onto some heilium balloons, and directed the the contraption
upwards until they caught the hoop on a rock outcrop. They verified the sturdiness
and up they went into some of the upper reaches of the cave. I think one of these
types of explorations yielded about 800 feet of unmapped passage. I don't think
they've done this type of exploration in quite some time.
After returning my audio guide, I took the elevator back up to the visitor's
center to meet my Spider Cave tour at 1pm. After a brief conversation, we drove out
to the Spider Cave parking area along the gravel scenic drive. We then hiked the 1/2
mile to the cave and headed in. This cave was a bit "wilder" than the
Slaughter Canyon cave. The NPS provided us with helmets and lights. We headed
into the darkness. A good bit of crawling led to some beautiful, and quite unusual
formations. I saw some really impressive gypsum formations as well as some strange
stark white formations from the ceiling.
It is really unfortunate that my pictures simply didn't come out well in any of
the caves. The light in there is pretty darn poor and without a decent camera (where
you have some control over the exposure) and a tripod... or an incredibly powerful flash,
quality pictures are near impossible. Also, even if you were close enough to a
formation for the flash to light it up, you completely loose depth and the pictures come
out very flat. Soo... sorry about the bad pictures. I did manage to snap
decent photos of some odd formations off the like I had never seen before.
During the Spider cave trip, I got to meet Jennifer who was travelling the
country as I was. Jennifer was actually looking for a job, however and was hoping to
settle down in a western town sometime in the near future. We talked a good bit
about the joys and pains of travelling. Being female, her concerns on the road were
a bit different than mine. For example, she didn't campout very often due to safety
reasons. She'd often book a hotel or stay in a hostel. It was interesting to
hear about some of the places she had been. After the caving trip was over, we had
dinner in Carlsbad and continued our discussion. Afterwards, she headed off North and I
headed off south back to my campsite.
November 9th - The following day, I headed back out to McKittrick
Canyon. The day was absolutely beautiful, even though the forecast called for nasty
weather. Most of the day was consumed by the hike. On the hike up the canyon,
my first stop was Pratt's cabin. Thanks to Mr. Pratt, McKittrick Canyon is now a
part of the National Park. Pratt was a geologist who fell in love with the canyon
and bought the majority of the land that makes up the canyon. He then donated the
land to the National Park Service. He built a small cabin in there where I stopped
to eat lunch and enjoy the afternoon sun. I actually took a nap right on the back
porch of the cabin! Afterwards, I headed up the trail to a picnic area called the
"grotto" (see picture). The grotto was a beautiful little shallow cave in
a limestone wall. Just beyond the Grotto lies the Hunter's Cabin. I found
three fairly tame mule deer next the the hunters cabin... I got within about 15 feet of
them. If you look closely at the pictures, you should be able to see them. I
guess they didn't realize they were hanging out by a "hunter's cabin!"
Afterwards, I headed up the canyon a bit further and was rewarded with a fantastic view of
a mountain "bowl" where many valleys meet to form the single valley that makes
up McKittrick Canyon. I then headed back down to Pratt's cabin, took a quick nap,
and finished the hike back to my car as the sky began to show signs of clouds.
As I approached my car, the wind really started kicking up. I got into my
car and headed back to my campsite. I would say that the winds were up gusting
around 50-60 miles an hour that evening. If the wind had gotten any stronger, I
thought that my car may have flipped! It was an interesting evening. Thank
goodness, the winds died off by midnight or so. I thought that I might have another
incident with heavy fog and mist tomorrow morning. I decided that if the weather was
bad, I would go into Roswell (about 2 hour drive) and check out the UFO museum.
Otherwise, I would head out to Guadelupe Peak.
November 10th - I woke up to a beautiful morning and I headed out early
to hit Guadeluple Peak. The clouds had cleared off and the winds had died down.
The hike to Guadelupe peak is 4.2 miles with 3000 foot vertical elevation gain.
I'd say about 40% of that gain was probably in the first mile. It was brutal.
I caught up with another lone hiker about 1 mile into the trip and we decided to
finish the hike together. It was nice having someone to talk to the entire way up.
The mountains were quite impressive. The Guadelupe Mountains were formed
from an ancient seabed... a limestone reef. The reef was pushed upwards by geologic
plate activity forming the Guadelupe Mountain range. This is quite different than
the Chisos mountains of Big Bend which were formed by magma pushing its way up through the
earth's crusts. The Guadelupe mountains look entirely different than the Chisos.
The walls are white instead of red. Supposedly numerous fossiles can be found
throughout the limestone mountain range. One of the highlights of the hike for me
was seeing El Capitan (at least I think that is what I was looking at!) This sucker
sticks out of the mountain range like a sore thumb (see the picture). It is the
oddest looking thing with sheer walls on all sides, and a forest growing on top of it at a
45 degree angle!
It took us 3 hours to reach the top, but the view was definitely worth it.
Guadelupe peak is the highest point in Texas. The winds were calm in the
valleys below, but on the peak, they were brutal. We probably had a windchill of 0
degrees, and I was only dressed for 40 degree weather. At the top of the mountain is
a pyramid placed by American Airlines! Apparently, this area was a difficult area to
fly through and the plaque was for the airmen of American Airlines who flew through the
area. I was also surprised to find a peak register at the top. A peak register
is a notebook in which you sign your name to let future generations know that you made it
to the top of some peak. After signing the register and downing some food, we headed
back down the mountain. Two hours later, we were back at the cars. We parted
ways and I headed back to my campsite to heat up some leftover chili and figure out where
to go next.
One thing I've noticed in my hiking... I found Guadelupe peak rather easy on my
body. However, my hike in McKittrick Canyon seemed fairly hard on my body,
specifically my hip and knees. I think this has something to do with flat terrain
vs. steep terrain. For some reason my body seems to be able to handle ups and downs
better than flat. I recall a hike I did on Cumberland Island with my good friend
Eric Click a while back. We hiked probably 12-14 flat miles that day and both of us
were hurtin' pretty bad by the end of the day. I started feeling the same way on my
McKittrick Canyon hike and was glad to be back at the car. However, Guadelupe peak,
a significantly more difficult hike, posed no problems for me. This is something
I'll have to monitor in my future hikes.
Made me feel at home
(but haven't visited it yet)
A UFO Sighting!
My BLM Campsite for the next few days
BLM Campsite at Sunrise
Fall colors in McKittrick Canyon
The Grotto, McKittrick Canyon
Hunter's Cabin in McKittrick Canyon
(beyond Hunters Cabin)
The "bowl", just beyond the Grotto
Bad Self Portrait
Crystals in Spider Cave
Gnome Formation in Spider Cave
Soda Straw with cancer!
Spider Cave Group
Gee, I don't look like a tourist, do I?
Carlsbad Caverns "Natural" Entrance
Whales Mouth, Carlsbad Caverns
El Capitan (I think)