Following the advice of some friendly volunteers, we left Big Bend National Park to head to Guadalupe Mountains National Park, via Carlsbad Caverns.
Only a few hours from Big Bend, we made it to Carlsbad Caverns in no time.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Although technically in the Guadalupe Mountain range, Carlsbad Mountain National Park is a separate national park. The main attraction is the cave’s Big Room, 1200m long, 191m wide, and 78m wide at its highest point.
We pulled into the carpark in the early afternoon, and were surprised to see how many cars were there. Two days ago, we'd never heard of this place. Clearly everyone else has!
After buying our tickets, we decided to walk in via the natural entrance rather than taking the elevator down. We walked quickly for the first five minutes from the visitors' centre to the cave entrance, where the baking hot sun tried to kill us in as little time as possible.
We breathed a huge sigh of relief as we entered the cave, where the temperature dropped several degrees out of the direct sunlight, and continued to drop as we wound our way down into the cave.
We had NO IDEA how big this place was. We wound down, down, down into the darkness, with just enough lighting to stop us from tripping. If you happen to be there at the right time, around dusk, you can sit outside the cave entrance and watch 300,000 Mexican free-tail bats exiting the caves to hunt.
The deeper we walked, the more the caverns started to narrow to smaller passageways, and the more varied the natural formations were. We passed one that looked like a whale's head, and another area called 'the Boneyard', where all the rocks looked like bones.
After walking for close to 40 minutes, we had finally arrived to the Big Room, which really earned its name. This enormous cavern was filled with all sorts of incredible rock formations. The low lighting in the caves lent a creepy atmosphere that reminded me a little too much of many of the horror movies I've seen...
We spent an hour or so wandering around the caverns, checking out the formations, before heading to the elevator to hitch our ride out. Sadly, it was not to be. The queue for the elevator was an hour long, so instead we refuelled with sandwiches before the gruelling climb back to the car.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
From there, it was a short drive down the road to our stop for the night, Guadalupe Mountains National Park. We attempted to stop for gas, but the self service gas station wouldn't accept our New Zealand credit cards, so we filed that away as a problem for future Sam and Zev.
Soon enough, we pulled into the campsite at Guadalupe Mountains to find it full... Luckily there was an overflow group campsite that the host allowed us to use, so we set up the tent and settled in for the night. With bright blue skies overhead, we chose to brave it and sleep with the fly off, and boy oh boy was that the right decision.
We'd had high hopes for star gazing at Big Bend National Park, which is a dark sky reserve, but sadly the weather was so temperamental that we had to have the fly on the tent because it rained most nights. The clouds made any stargazing attempts impossible anyway.
Guadalupe Mountains really turned it on for us. It was a beautiful clear night with a light breeze, and a huge full moon. I woke up often through the night (the drawbacks of sleeping on an air mattress), and each time found myself lying awake for 10 minutes, drinking in the beautiful night sky. The stars were out in force, and each time I woke up, the moon had moved a little further across the sky. As the morning started to break, I watched the sky change colour and the sun start to rise. It was well worth the lack of sleep to soak in the beauty.
Fuel crisis and on to Phoenix
We packed up the car early in the morning to hit the road for Phoenix. As we pulled onto the highway, I looked at the fuel gauge, and realised that I was no future Sam. Zev googled nearby gas stations, and found that the closest one was 30 miles away. Our gas gauge was telling us we had 33 miles left in the tank. Gulp. We set off gingerly, driving a fuel efficiently as possible.
We turned off the main highway to detour to the Dell City (population 431) that housed our only hope for gas. On the way into town, we passed a self service gas station and tried that. Again, it wouldn't accept our NZ credit cards. We got back in the car to go to the one Zev had found on google. It was closed on Sundays. Our gas display was showing that we had --- miles left in the tank. EEEKKK. We went back to the self service station to try a different credit card. This time it accepted, but when we put the nozzle in the tank, no gas came out. We tried another pump. Same outcome... Stress levels were high. We went BACK to the other station, and found an after hours/emergency number. We called twice. No answer.
As all hope was lost, and we were beginning to think we might be staying here for the night, we started walking to a cafe across the road to ask if anyone knew how we could get in touch with the gas station owner. As we crossed the road, Zev's phone started ringing - HOORAY! Sonny, the owner, explained that he had ignored our call because he only gets telemarketing calls from NY (where our numbers are from). It was only when we called back a second time that he thought that it might be about the gas station. We apologised profusely for interrupting his Sunday (it was only 8.30am), but he was more than happy to come down and help us out - he assured us it happens all the time. We pumped our gas, bought a coffee, and left him a nice tip to say thanks for the help - thank goodness for the kindness of strangers in Dell City, Texas!
With that dealt to, we were back on the road, again, swallowing the miles between us and Phoenix for the night, before heading for Las Vegas the next day!
Lots of love,
S & Z