Twigs In Our Hair

reflecting America's grand landscape

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

18 Mar 05 - Visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
Carlsbad Caverns National Park on the southern border of New Mexico is only about 40 miles north of Guadalupe Mountains National Park on the northern boundary of the Texas panhandle.  The National Park Service creates a single Visitor Guide which combines both parks.

As a day trip, today we left our campsite in Guadalupe Mountains and visited Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  We first drove up to the town of Carlsbad to get some gas and groceries, then returned to have some lunch and spend the afternoon at the caverns.

Carlsbad Entrance
Certainly one of the prettiest signs in the National Park System.


Desert Prickly Pear


Natural Entrance
Visitors may start their descent into the caverns by descending through elevators from the Visitor Center. We choose the longer route through the original Natural Entrance.

This hillside also is the site of the Bat Flight Amphitheater. Through this entrance 23,487 Mexican free-tailed bats, give or take a few, emerge every evening to munch on insects. Unforunately for us, the bats are in Mexico during the winter. And it's not evening, it's midday. So no bats. So there.


Carlsbad Column
I lost track of the name of this individual formation.  It's a stalagmite covered with dripstone, not far from the Natural Entrance, as we begin to descend from the Bat Cave level to the Big Room level.  Yes, they really call it the Bat Cave.  Golly.

The caves were created within the depths of the Capitan reef by rainwater mixing with water laced with hydrogen-sulfide from nearby oil and gas fields.  500,000 years later, the formations were created when rainwater with dissolved carbon dioxide formed a weak acid, and dissolved part of the overhead limestone in the reef as it percolated downward.  When the water landed in the cave, the carbon dioxide escaped, leaving the dissolved limestone (aka calcite) to accumulate in formations.

Whale's Jaw
I didn't have a tripod to use during these very low-light photo shoots.  Most of the time I steadied my camera against the walkway railing, and took 3 or 4 shots.  When I was lucky, at least one came out reasonably sharp.

Carlsbad Dripstone
I'm not sure if "dripstone" is the actual name for these formations, or if they really have a name.  Technically, they are known as "calcite formations."

Hall of Giants
The rooms in Carlsbad Caverns are just immense.  Whereas Mammoth Cave in Kentucky has large rooms, its size is due to the length of its passages.  Carlsbad Caverns has these gigantic rooms.  Look at this picture closely for a moment to see if you can grasp the scale.  The ceiling is 50 or 60 feet tall.  Some rooms were even larger, but difficult to photograph.

Giant Dome
Just behind and on the left is one of the Twin Domes.  These formations must stand 30-40 feet tall.

Caveman Junction
Ho hum, just another amazing massive formation.

Hall of Giants Redux
Looking at the Hall of Giants from another angle.  These are not the same formations as in the previous Hall of Giants photo.  These huge things were everywhere.  We are still in what's called the "Big Room" of the main level.

Lower Cave
This was a tricky photograph to get, and only looks as good as it does because I Photoshopped the living daylights out of it.  We are looking down from the level of the Big Room into the Lower Cave.  There's another entire cave system down there, not normally open to the public, but saved for researchers.  We're looking waaaaay down, maybe 100 feet to the bottom of the opening on the lower right.

Of course, because we started at midday, and walked the entire cave, and I spent lots of time taking photos, we got escorted out by a NPS ranger.  Which turned out to be a great time to learn about caves, one-on-one with your own park ranger, especially if you happen to be the garrulous sort.

19 Mar 05 - Hiking Guadalupe Peak Summit, Guadalupe Mountains NP, Texas
Back in Guadalupe Mountains, this day is chronicled in the previous trip leg.  Click here to read about my climb to the summit of Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas.

20 Mar 05 - Traveling to Upaya Zen Center, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Today is Sunday, and we will be driving from the southern border of New Mexico 3/4 of the distance to the northern border, to the artsy city of Santa Fe.  We are excited about visiting Upaya Zen Center, our first residential stay at a Zen center since ZMM last October.

Guadalupe Campsite
The sun hasn't even hit our tent yet, but we're moving and getting ready to travel north.  It's pretty cold this early in the morning, especially at this altitude in March.

Goddard's Rocket
We pull over in Roswell to park on a side street and make some cold bean and cheese burritos.  If you look closely at the right of the structure, you can see the car parked with the tailgate up, and Dawn talking to the Wal-Mart greeter turned preacher who befriended us on the street during lunch.  There is a plaque at the base of the rocket:
This tablet is erected in memory of Dr. Robert Hutchings Goddard who here laid the foundations for the science of rocket propulsion.  He used this tower from 1930 to 1942 for launching liquid propellant rockets to develop a means for exploring extreme altitudes.

As we travel north on US 285, the scenery remains gently rolling hills of desert until we pass I-40.  Suddenly we notice the hills have become more pronounced, though still small, and the earth takes on a reddish hue.  It's quite pretty.

21 Mar 05 - Residency at Upaya Zen Center, Santa Fe, New Mexico
We are warmly received by the residents of Upaya Zen Center, and shown to our guest room.  As we will be working during our stay, we are housed with the residents, and our room is small, but clean and comfortable.  We soon notice that all the guest rooms at Upaya are beautiful and well-appointed, though sparely furnished, reflecting a Zen sensibility.  It is easy to see how this facility is so sought-after for group workshops as well as individual retreats.

We enjoy Upaya so much we extend our stay from 3 days to 4, in particular to attend a Dharma talk by Joan Halifax Roshi.

Upaya Guesthouse
This Santa Fe architecture is ubiquitous at Upaya.  This particular house offers rooms for individual guests, living quarters for Roshi, and meeting space for workshops.  During our stay a workshop began for Death and Dying, a particular specialty for Roshi, for which she has achieved international reknown.

Upaya Guesthouse Altar
I've never seen an ugly Zen altar.  Everywhere we looked at Upaya, we saw beautiful objects simply arranged.

Another Guesthouse
Mostly individual rooms for guests, and perhaps some rooms for residents.  In this beautiful space we were invited to take part in a residents' Council, a chance for the residents to share the events of their week, air grievances, and generally work things out in a civilized manner.  We were honored to be included.

Upaya Dining Hall
Immediately adjoining the kitchen, which also has 3 big tables for serving meals.  The food was all vegetarian and all delicious.

Upaya Han
We actually did sit while we were at Upaya, not just work and eat.  Most Zen centers have a han placed outdoors or in a central location, where the steady thock-thock-thock serves to call practitioners to the beginning of a sitting period.  Because Upaya is located within earshot of residential neighbors, the han is indoors, and struck distinctly, but not vigorously.  Notice the rope hanging from the bottom of the han, which the instrumentalist holds to steady the wood while it is being struck with the mallet seen hanging in the corner.  You can also see the indentation in the center of the han where it is struck.  Hans have to be replaced periodically when they get too thin in the center.

Upaya Zendo
A beautiful space.  We understand it was added to the Upaya compound at a later date, built to Roshi's specifications.  It also includes Japanese style interview rooms for daisan and dokusan, with elevated floors and straw floor mats.  These were the fanciest dokusan rooms I have ever seen.

Upaya Zendo Altar
The main zendo altar.  There are additional statues on both sides, but due to the intense backlighting and the limitations of my camera, this shot was best.  I believe this Manjusri wielding the sword of compassion, the single sword that both kills and gives life.