Hopefully…it took me awhile to filter through over 400 pictures but the end is in sight! Now to continue the family reunion…
Cheers!Here’s more raffle items (in the foreground) and more family (in the background).Unfortunately my camera doesn’t take very good pictures in low lighting (did I mention that already?) so I didn’t capture many good pictures in the ballroom….
I had to leave the Tejano party early because I needed to wake up early to drive to Carlsbad Caverns for my cave tour. The following morning I took a last look at Pecos, including the drive-thru zoo:Poor animals…On the way to Slaughter Canyon Cave, which is outside of the main area of the park, I took a short detour to a geocache on the same road. I met a gaggle of turkeys on the way to the cache. Why would the turkeys cross the road?This virtual cache is located at a desert spring, an oasis for wildlife including the bats that fly out of the caverns. The steering wheel contraption was missing in order to claim the cache but hopefully I can give the owner enough information to get my smiley.The drive to the cave was beautiful as always. One could see the Guadalupe Mountains from here.The Slaughter Canyon Cave is in Slaughter Canyon (creative name right?).The cave was discovered around the 1920’s (I think). A goat-herder was caught in an intense storm during monsoon season and took cover while letting the goats fend for themselves. When the storm stopped he searched for his goats and heard a faint bleating up one of the hills. He followed the sound and eventually discovered all of his goats in a cave. Later the cave was explored and guano was mined. After this cave became a part of the national park, guano mining was eventually discontinued and the cave was opened to public tours (by reservation). The trail up to the cave is pretty steep which affords some nice views of the canyon:and the cave is gated.This cave is not like the main caverns. It is not lighted. There is no paved trail. The trail is demarcated with tape. It is quite slippery, especially at the beginning. There is also a part where we had to use a rope to make our way up a slippery slope.For those of you who have never been inside a cave, everybody should experience a cave! Caves are amazing environments. These caves in particular were formed by sulfuric acid which is uncommon in these parts. (They are normally formed by water over a VERY LONG time). Also some microbes have been found in these caves that can eat the plastic that we can’t recycle and other microbes that could possibly cure cancer. Testing is being done on both. For those of you who are nervous about caving, find an easy cave where you are standing upright the whole time and somebody like a ranger is guiding you through it. The NPS rangers at these caves were awesome. The whole experience at this cave was awesome except for some 12-year-old disrespectful kid who I wanted to choke…The ranger even yelled at this kid…Anyways, go caving everyone! Every cave has a twilight zone, the edge of natural lighting into the cave. Here’s a picture of the cave entrance from the twilight zone:After the twilight zone, you enter the most impenetrable darkness you will ever know. When we descended as far into the cave as we were going to go, we all turned off our lights and plunged into the blackness. Being deep in a cave is like being totally blind. Some Native Americans came into this cave long ago and drew pictures on the walls. They didn’t have headlamps to aid them… After a few minutes of darkness, the ranger sparked a lighter and showed us what the cave would have looked like to the explorers in the early 20th century. We were then told to shine our headlamps on the formation straight ahead. It was the Christmas tree formation which sparkled like a Christmas tree because it was covered in gypsum. On the way out we could also see the Klansman or the Guardian, a scary looking formation. We also got to stand beside an 8 foot tall pile of guano that is estimated to be hundreds of thousands of years old (if I remember correctly). It’s so old, that within the guano we could see bones from long dead bats. These bones have been studied and they are actually from an extinct bat species, the Constantine bat! So cool!After exploring Slaughter Canyon Cave, it was time to drive to the main attraction. On the park road, I could see the wildfire devastation from just a few weeks prior:Then I finally arrived atMy original plan was to hike through the natural entrance and take the elevator back up but it was crazy busy and the elevators back up had a wait of up to an hour so I decided to hike out. First I did the mile loop around the Big Room. The incredible beauty of these caves is hard to describe in words…Then I hiked the ascending mile out of the cave. The hike can be strenuous for some but I’m young 😉 At the natural cave entrance a bunch of cave swallows have made their homes. The bat homes are just inside the natural cave entrance.After exploring the caves, I needed to busy myself before watching the bats exit the cave. There are informative ranger programs here that were great to sit through. There was a Polish female ranger who was awesome. She was funny and passionate about caving and bats. I learned a bunch of bat facts from her. Mostly Mexican free-tailed bats are at Carlsbad. There are only a few thousand there this year because of the drought (no rain since September) and the wildfires. No bugs or water for the bats! Lady bats have one pup per year. Pregnant bats eat their body weight in bugs every night and their baby will weigh 1/4 of their body weight (imagine that in human proportions)! Bats range in size from bumblebee size to having six-foot wingspans. They eat fruit and bugs. The vampire bats that suck blood prefer chickens and cows to humans. Bats are incredible creatures! At Carlsbad they have a program where one can adopt a bat and all of the money ($5) goes towards research. Bruno, my newly adopted bat, flies out of Carlsbad Caverns every night, at least until he goes back to Mexico 😉 After watching most of the bats fly out, I decided to leave since I had a decent drive to Odessa ahead of me. I stayed at my brother’s place that night.
It was time to go home the next day (and finish my geocaching passport :D). My first stop was Big Spring State Park. Here’s its scenic view:Here I learned about the Texas Horned Lizard, or horny toad as I used to call them when I would catch them as a kid. These guys can squirt blood from their eyes. In late fall they burrow just below the surface and hibernate. After leaving Big Spring, I came across more evidence of oil country:My next stop wasI had a lot of trouble finding the cache (an ammo box haha) here, but when I did I read about the Nine-Banded Armadillo. These cool mammals can swallow air and float across bodies of water. They are always born in sets of four identical siblings and will not survive if it’s too hard to dig for food. The lake hasn’t dried up here.I left and entered the land of the wind turbines. They seemed endless!My next stop was The trail to the cache here was nice and shady. I learned about the beautifully colored painted bunting. Males of this bird species will vigorously defend their territory against other males, occasionally fighting to the death! My last passport destination wasThis park had a busy pool and nice lakeside trails. I read about Scissor-tailed Flycatchers here. Their nests include human products like string, cotton, paper, and cigarette filters. A study found that artificial materials accounted for about 1/3 of the weight of the nests. One good use for those nasty butts huh? (*Most of the wildlife information on these past few posts are courtesy of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department*). Here’s a view of the lake and the start of the trail where the geocache was located:After this cache I continued the drive and found two more caches. I retrieved four Travel Bugs on this trip (yay!). The last cache was at a cemetery where I met a group of deer with several baby deer in tow (so cute!).
This trip was so awesome. I saw so many places and people who I’ve never seen before. Unfortunately I’m low on $ so the next trip is on the distant horizon but I’m thinking the gulf coast might be next 😉