|God Bless Texas! Part 8: The Carlsbad Caverns|
Guadalupe Peak, TX to Pecos, TX (Map) - 173mi/278km
I went north from Guadalupe Peak, since I was so close to the Carlsbad Caverns that there was no way I could pass it up. I have to plead ignorance on the Carlsbad Caverns though, as the only reason I paid attention to this place was because I saw it on UJ's bucket list. Completing things on UJ's bucket list makes me happy and gives me great amounts of belly-laughter amusement!
I hurried inside the visitor centre, ready to purchase my ticket and descend into the depths. Not so fast though, for I had to answer a question about whether I had been in any caves over the last 7 years - which is a question I sweated as I obviously have been in caves during that time period. Thankfully, the National Park lady only further questioned me to make sure I wasn't wearing the same clothes or using the same tripod. Phew! After driving up here instead of exploring West Texas, I didn't exactly want to be turned around.
There was another kerfuffle though, as apparently the elevator was broken. Since I was here later in the day, the woman explained to me that I was still welcome to go into the caverns, but that I would have to really rush if I expected to see it all & still make my way up the 1 mile long, 79-storey trail back to the cavern entrance.
I wasn't looking forward to climbing the steep trail back out of the caverns, but I would worry about that later.
The above picture does not show what I considered to be 'steep trail'.
The Carlsbad Caverns were created by an inland sea evaporating, which exposed the seafloor reef to surface evaporation, especially as tectonic movement pushed the reef upwards. The surface was then made up of a limestone bed, atop groundwater, atop the Mid-Continent Oil Field. Around 5 million years ago, Hydrogen Sulfide moved upwards from the petroleum oil field and combined with oxygen in the groundwater to form sulphuric acid. Sulphuric acid dissolves limestone. This dissolution created caverns after the acid mix drained away from the spaces.
Various caves in the area were used by Native Americans and early settlers, but the steep entrance to the Carlsbad Caverns likely limited its particular use. Some of the other 109 caves in the area were more likely used.
The first white man to explore the caves came in 1898, a cowhand by the name of Jim White. Jim was rounding up lost cattle when he noticed an incredible number of bats emerging from a nearby area (a phenomenon you can still witness at dusk to this day). Jim cut through the nearby brush to investigate & found a giant black hole. He returned a couple of days later with a hatchet & constructed a ladder to get into the cave and explore. Climbing down 20ft ledges and crawling past holes of unknown depths, he discovered what is now known as the Bat Cave. He came back a few days later with a Mexican boy named Pothead and they spent 3 full days underground! I was amazed at what they explored, as apparently they guided themselves by kerosene light through the areas which modern-day tourists see by paved trail & hours of walking!
If you find that hard to believe, they found a "1898 Jim White" tag in the Caverns back in the 1980s.
Throughout the first hour, I continued to see people crawling back up the trail, leaving themselves enough time to make it back to the top before closing time. None of these people looked like they were having any fun. It was with this that I kept telling myself "just a little more", as I wanted to turn around before digging myself all too deep of a hole.
The view you see in the above picture captures the times where it was hard to keep moving forward. The trail grew really steep at these portions & there didn't seem to be very much ahead.
Obviously you can tell that I didn't know much about the Carlsbad Caverns because as you continue along the trail, it becomes more & more incredible. It becomes incredible to the point where it doesn't even compute. I would stand there and think about being 750 ft below ground, in one of the largest caves in the world, but it didn't have the weight that it really should have.
Eventually I stopped running into people who were going the opposite way. I was confused initially, but I figured I had to have come to a loop in the trail, where people would now be on the other end.
It wasn't all that concerning anyway, it's not like they would leave me down here.
Walking along, I noticed an old wooden ladder remaining in its place. This ladder led early explorers down to the Lower Cave, which you could see with a few more minutes of walking (there was an overlook with green lights showcasing said cave).
Since I knew my time was limited, I had been moving quickly whenever my camera was done exposing a picture satisfactorily. Even so, I was thinking it had to have been about 2 hours at this point. It wasn't time to go just yet, but I had places to be; so as I continually passed people & snapped quick pictures, I was done with the Big Room Trail in no time.
Walking back towards the Natural Entrance Trail I entered upon, I noticed people walking over to vending machines and a lunchroom. As I went over for a drink, I witnessed a family enter the elevator and go up! Score! I don't have to climb 79 stories back to the surface after hiking to the highest point in Texas!
I entered the elevator with two employees, one of whom was impressed that he had ran into someone from British Columbia & someone from New (pause) Finland in the same day! From Canadian coast to coast!
Back at my car, the afternoon was slipping away. I high-tailed it out of the parking lot & back towards the US-180, which brought me here from Texas. I would have liked to take a picture of the stone, Texas welcome sign, but I had to keep moving.
As I turned left onto Ranch to Market Road 652, I hit the accelerator and barreled east. This only lasted for maybe a minute, as I noticed a creature scurrying about up ahead...ROADRUNNER! I exclaimed it out loud to myself, with a shocked open mouth & a vigorous fist pump that brought pain to my fingers. I sped towards the bird, which unfortunately was already 20ft off the road.
Thankfully there was a clear patch of land to get an extremely marginal picture to remember the moment. I would only get one picture of the bird before it disappeared into the shrubbery and I was left standing on this desolate county road.
I gave her one more 2008 US Open Tiger Woods fist pump with both hands and yelling towards the sky. I couldn't believe I finally saw a roadrunner after all this time in Texas.
I wasn't racing towards Orla, but when I happened upon the intersection, I couldn't pass up the chance meeting.
Orla is a ghost town which used to have more than 200 people, but is now home to a population of 2. There were a lot of trucks sitting around with their engines running, presumably ready to take off for the oil rigs which surround the hamlet.
Orla was a really neat ghost town and I would have loved to spend a few hours there, but the sun was setting and light was fading fast - I wanted to see Mentone more than Orla.
At the time, I thought Mentone was the smallest county seat in America. It has since lost that distinction to Brewster, Nebraska. Brewster has 17 people, Mentone has a whopping 19. Still though, Mentone remains the county seat of the least populated county - Loving County - with a population of 82.
The county has such a small population that there was an attempt by Libertarians to take over in 2006. A group of Libertarians from Florida tried to purchase some land and subdivide it, so that they could become citizens and vote out all elected officials. This would allow the Libertarians to create local county laws which they believe in, laws which "remove oppressive regulation", such as gambling, incest, drug handling, dueling, cannibalism, etc..
The sheriff caught wind of these Libertarians and magically their land deal fell through. There is now a wanted sign on the Loving County Courthouse stating that 3 of these Libertarians are "wanted by Texas Rangers."
Loving County is the only Texas county to be incorporated twice. It was first incorporated in 1891 by a canal company from Denver, but once the landowners dug further into this incorporation, fraud was found & the canal company fled the area with all county records. The state legislature attached Loving County back to Reeves County in 1897.
Oil was discovered in this area in 1921, leading to a population increase. The majority of the population congregated in Mentone, so it became the county seat in 1931. Therefore, Loving County never had an opulent, original courthouse, the above courthouse is their original, opulent courthouse.
The Texas historical marker on the courthouse lawn proudly proclaims that Mentone "has no water system (water is hauled in.) Nor does it have a bank, doctor, hospital, newspaper, lawyer, civic club or cemetery."
When someone dies, they are transported for burial in nearby Kermit or Pecos.
At one time, there was another significant Loving County community, but Porterville now sits as a ghost town, with nothing left behind as everyone eventually moved to Mentone.
I went to the sole gas station in Mentone to support the town. As the pump rang up $15, $16, $17...it suddenly occurred to me that they might not take credit cards!
Walking inside, I was so happy that I stopped the pump, as I had about $21 dollars in cash on me...and sure enough, they didn't accept credit cards. The worker asked me how much gas I pumped, wrote it down in a small ledger, took my money & wished me a "good night, now". The inside of the gas station could have been a film set the very next day - it was quite the throwback.
The rest of the night was forgettable. Using the last light to get to Pecos, I wasn't all that impressed when I got there. I went to some grimy liquor mart for some beers. I then went in search of cheap accommodations, paying a ridiculous $70 at their Motel 6 (after stopping at Motel 6, growing unimpressed with the price, searching for other options, then resigning myself back to the Motel 6). Apparently they can charge more for motels in Pecos because of all the seasonal workers in the nearby oil fields.
I finished up the great day with a mediocre meal at Sonic. I ate my deep-fried whatever on the way back to the Motel 6, listening to the local high school basketball game on the radio, which was strange because one of the players was from Aylmer, Ontario0, one was from Detroit and one other was from some other place in Michigan. I found that a strange starting lineup for a basketball team in West Texas.
Go forward to Part 9...
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1 - James Larkin White - Wikipedia
2- Carlsbad Caverns, Cave/Karst Systems - NPS.gov
3 - Loving County, Texas - Wikipedia
4 - Mentone, Texas - Wikipedia
5 - Porterville, TX - Wikipedia