Shiny Metal Tiger

Experiences in Baltimore, MD

Road Trip Day 18: New Mexico

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Once we’d left San Antonio we were officially in the Southwestern desert country. From then on we had countless miles of sand with a smattering of National Parks to look forward to before reaching California. The fact that many of these parks close around sunset (and really require daylight to experience anyhow) kind of restricted the freedom we’d otherwise enjoyed on the trip, by forcing us to halt our driving and wait for the sunrise whenever we arrived at a park after dark. The first such instance came on the border between Texas and New Mexico, where we realized that there was no way we’d have time to see the Carlsbad caverns that day.

Instead, we went to El Paso, and had intended to hop over the bridge to Mexico just to be able to  say we’d been there (and get a stamp in the old passport). However, since my US visa had technically expired a week earlier, I wanted to make absolutely sure that they’d let me back into the United States if I was to cross over. I dutifully followed signs for the US Immigration Information, and suddenly found myself entering the building from the same place as all the Mexicans seeking entry. Uh oh… It took some time to convince the immigration officer that I had in fact come from the US side to ask questions, not from Mexico to bring drugs into the country, and once that hurdle had been passed we still had to see whether they’d let me back in. For this he had to call his superior, officer Gonzales, who was damn sure they wouldn’t let me back in if I went to Juarez. In fact, what was I thinking trying to go to Mexico? Didn’t I know how dangerous it was? I had a college degree and I was trying to go to Juarez? Geez, think a little man. After a period of such aggressive discouragement he let us back into the US, and we settled for seeing Mexico from the distance.

Out on the border

The following morning was Carlsbad caverns, which greeted us like some Lovecraftian Mouth of Madness. Boldly (or ignorantly) we descended the winding path into this primordial abyss.

The Mouth of Madness?

The interior was cool and very, very dark. Only a few light sources were scattered here and there, and I had to put the down and use 60 second exposure time to get a decent shot of this never-never land.

False light

It was a strange place indeed. The almost organic-looking eroded surfaces brimming with ‘popcorn’ (small nuclei of minerals deposited during evaporation), the cool breeze and echoing sounds, in vast-but-enclosed chambers. Like an alien world right out of a SciFi movie. Take this picture, for instance:


Can you tell what’s what? Or even what’s up and down? Appropriately dressed, I think the caverns would have been an excellent place to sit down and write something, or any other such introverted cerebral activity. But of course that’s not what most people are looking for, and as in any other tourist destination there was a nicely mapped out footpath taking you past all the most interesting looking rock formations that had been illuminated for your viewing pleasure. Which sounds rather more critical and would-be nonconformist than I have a right to. Most people naturally have limited time to see something like Carlsbad, such that random exploration doesn’t really work, and of course we fell into this group as well. So let’s look at the bright side and say that many of the rock formations were indeed… interesting.

100% natural?

After spending a few hours in Carlsbad we moved on to the nearby White Sands National Monument. This place is basically a patch of sand with a different chemical composition than that of the surrounding area, and subsequently a different (white) color. It’s big enough that you can drive to the middle of it, scale a dune and see nothing but white sand in every direction. With the sparse vegetation it had a strong resemblance to the beach at my summer house, except for the lack of water of course.

We were the only people there, so it was once again something of an otherworldly experience. Not a sound to be heard, aside from our footsteps and we ran around and did handstands and whatnot. It’s no wonder that Blizzard stole half of their World of Warcraft from real-life parks in America; the nature here is truly impressive, and diverse.


Written by Martin

2010/12/24 at 02:50

Posted in Uncategorized

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