Monthly Archives: December 2012

Cavesicles and Bat Flights (or lack thereof)

It amazes me that one day someone walking in the barren wilderness of New Mexico stumbled across Carlsbad Caverns. That person had no idea the amazing piece of land that they found. Because it’s dark in there. And I doubt they had a flashlight.

There are two hiking trails in the caves and we managed to get there before the first one closed. We kicked off the hike at the cleverly named “Natural Entrance”:

DA MOUF

It’s really quiet going in there because anything you say echoes very loudly. So much as a soft fart can be heard by all. Trust me on this one.

The caves are beautiful. There are facts along the way that describe what you’re looking at, how it formed, and so on. All of it was interesting, but I can’t remember anything of significance. It’s also enormous in there. So big that they only let tourists in certain areas of the cave. Apparently they’re still discovering new parts in the places where tourists aren’t allowed. Also, there’s a part that’s called (and I kid you not) the “Bat Cave”. I think it’s where Christian Bale lives. But more on that later.

As expected, there were stalactites and stalagmites all over the place. Or as I like to call them, “cavesicles”.

Cool cavesicles

Pretty sweet right? These bad boys were everywhere. It was hard to get good pictures, so I had to just use my memory instead (which sucked).

About 2 hours of hiking later, we made it through everything we were allowed to see, so we headed to the surface (oddly enough, on the elevator we met people from my hometown).

At the visitor’s center, we were told that they were having a “bat flight” showing at dusk, so we had some time to kill until then. On our way in, we noticed there was a “scenic route” for driving. We headed that way. This is what we saw.
Barren wilderness

For 9 wonderful miles, this was it. Cool? Yes. For 9 miles? No.

Then we realized we had a problem. The car was almost out of gas, and we weren’t even a third of the way done. There was no way to turn around as the road was a single lane rocks and dirt with nature to the left and right. And when I say out of gas, I mean the needle is ON the line for empty. Was the gas light on? No. Because the gas light in my care doesn’t work.

Panic mode sets in – all I can think about is us getting stranded miles from civilization for the night. After about 30 minutes of anxiety, we made it to the exit. Back to the visitor’s center and done crying in time for the bat flight.

Apparently, thousands of bats live in the “Bat Cave” inside the caverns. When the sun is setting, they fly out and go hunt. There’s an amphitheater there to sit and watch. I know what you’re thinking – “That sounds awesome!” “It’s probably just like in Batman!” “I hope they don’t poop on you!” Well it’s not awesome, nothing like Batman, and they do poop on you.

Well they don’t poop on you. The bats trickle out for minute after painstakingly slow minute. There’s no climax, no rush of wind from flapping wings, and definitely no crazy Batman-esque appearance. We gave it a shot, but after a while decided it was time to go.

We hopped in the car to head to our campsite. Then we realized that, although we made it out of the scenic route alive, there still was no gas in the car. Which is a major problem, because the closest gas station is at the entrance to the park, 7 miles away. Anxiety returned as I started the car and saw that the needle was not BELOW the empty line. We headed out and naturally got stuck behind the slowest driver known to man. At a roaring 20 mph we made our way down the winding, hilly road. Each tap of the gas pedal felt like it would be the last. With all my fingernails bitten off and sweat pouring down my face we finally reached the gas station.

Little did we know that wasn’t the last of our issues that night.

Mexico? No thanks.

Arizona morning

The sun shone through the clouds as we made our way out of the campground and to Carlsbad, New Mexico. Arizona, along with most of the Southwest, had some pretty interesting landscapes. There were always mountains in the distance, but not a mountain range. Just randomly placed mountains. And not really any grass either. Just dirt and shrubs.

And giant cacti. And no people. And no water. And a lot of sun. And misery.

To be honest, I liked it. I wouldn’t live there, but it was a cool place to see and visit again. If it was between there and Toledo.

Because it’s so flat in the Southwest, it makes rain very deceiving. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there is a rainy season in the Southwest. No winter, spring, summer or fall – just the dry season and the rainy season. We were there during the rainy season. This means that it normally rains once a day or so in quick spurts – not miserably pee on you for  6 days straight like it does up north. So as we drove along the highway, we could see rain clouds dotting the landscape. We could see for miles and miles, so we’d see rain that never even got close to us but drenched a large area of land.

It’s not like here in Pennsylvania where the weather is pretty much the same across the entire state. It took me a while to realize this, just long enough for my aversion to driving in thunderstorms kicked in.

When I was done silently weeping at the thought of driving in a thunderstorm I realized we had a strange route ahead of us. We entered New Mexico from the west, and were going across the state. But the fastest way to get there was to go down south into Texas and then back up north into New Mexico. As we entered Texas, we drove through El Paso. For those who are unaware, El Paso is on the border of Texas and Mexico. The city across the fence in Mexico is called Ciudad Juarez, and we had a perfect view.

It looked dirty and scary.

That was the closest I’d ever gotten to Mexico. To this day I pray I never have to get that close again. I saw one murder and three stabbings in 12 minutes. And somehow got high.

Screaming in terror from the sight of Mexico, we got off the highway for a less traveled state route back up to New Mexico. We barreled down the road until we came to an odd structure where we had to stop. As we got closer, we realized it was a Border Patrol station. Which was weird, because we were about 50 miles from the border. My guess is that if someone is sneaking into the USA, they’re not going to wait 50 miles to get off of the main road. Just a thought, border patrol.

So for the second time in three days, my car was searched for weapons and drugs. The dog didn’t find any drugs, and luckily, Carlos – who we had hidden in the backseat – kept quiet, so we were free to go.

We stopped at a rest stop to eat and let Carlos run like the wind. Here’s our view – it’s like where we stopped in Iowa but hotter and no corn or water and with dirt, shrubs and a mountain in the distance. So basically the same.

TexasBetz peed on the pavement like a dog and we made the final leg to Carlsbad Caverns. About 30 or 40 miles from the Caverns, the landscape had FINALLY changed. We were going through a mountainous area with great views of the land around us. As I gaped at how far we could see, I turned to see Betz asleep. Poor guy missed the one and only exciting part of the drive.

His loss.

We got the Caverns, parked, and made our way into the Visitor’s Center. After seeing rock and dirt all day, we made our way to mouth of the cave to hike through more rock and dirt. But this time it was dark.

And with lots of fat people.

 

People from Tucson are called Tucsonans.

When we were done eating our sandwiches and newly melted block of cheese, we continued on our death march through Arizona. We had about two hours left until we made it to our destination – Saguaro National Park. The park is in Tucson (which is such a stupid way to spell that name – I think Brett Favre had something to do with it), however we were staying at a campground about an hour outside of Tucson, so we still had a good chunk of driving time left.

As we approached Tucson, I decided to look up some facts about it. Turns out, the rainy season here gets REALLY rainy and flash flooding is very common. So much so that underpasses and low lying areas get a ton of water sitting in them. But here’s the kicker – the people of Tucson don’t care. They just drive right through the puddles. Then they get stuck, and the authorities have to come get them out. This became such a problem that the city had to put markings on the corresponding overpasses with height measurements so that residents can see how deep it the water is before attempting to drive through it.

Here’s a thought – when it rains, don’t drive through the massive 20 ft long puddle. It’s like living in the desert fried the common sense out of their brains. I’m 80% certain this is where Amy Poehler got the concept for the citizens of Pawnee.

Eventually, we made it to the park. This park isn’t exactly the most famous park in the National Park system, but it is conveniently placed between Vegas and Carlsbad Caverns (our next stop), so we sucked it up and went. It was nearing sunset when we arrived, so we quickly found our way to a trail to get a hike in before the sun went down.

Fittingly, the park (and trail) had saguaro cacti all over the place. For the horticulturally unsound, this is one of (if not the) largest species of cacti in the world. Hence the reason there’s a park named after it. To truly grasp the height of these things, see the picture below. For reference, I’m 6’2″ and standing as close to directly beside it as possible without getting a needle in my face. Huge cactus. As you can clearly see, that’s cactus is huge. Maybe they should put them by underpasses.

They get really old, too. They don’t even begin to sprout arms until they’re 75 years old or so. But when they do, you get really funny ones that look like they have a boner: lol THEN, after I made Betz take pictures of me with the cactus, we saw this little guy. TERRY Name: Terry. Mood: Chronically grumpy.

After chasing – well, moseying – after the turtle for a while we finished our hike. By then the sun was down, so we headed to our campsite. Upon arrival, we got the pleasure of setting up our tent mansion in the pitch dark. 75 minutes later we decided to cook up hot dogs and beans on the little grill I bought for the trip. The wind was blowing nice and steady, so we could barely light it, and when we did, we had about 30 seconds to cook our hot dogs.

We decided to cut up our dogs into the beans in order to eat like a child. But then a crushing realization set in. We had no can opener. The best we could do was a mediocre, at best, steak knife. We took turns sawing away at it like rabid cavemen. It took approximately 7 hours to get the can open to a point that we could pour the beans out. And after we did, we ate them to find that some beans were only lukewarm. The rest were cold. Yum.

We were one of three parties at the entire campground. Which was nice, but also creepy. There were no babies crying or music playing. However, as the cold beans and uncooked hot dog settled in my stomach, the possibility of brutal double homicide going unnoticed lingered in the air.

I didn’t sleep well that night.

Feelin’ hot hot hot (seriously)

$$$$$$

We made sure to grab our winnings before hitting the road to Tucson at 11:30 that morning. The sun was really beating down on us as we zoomed across the God forsaken Nevada landscape. About 30 minutes or so outside of Las Vegas we started seeing signs for the Hoover Dam. I checked the map and our route took us right by it, so we decided to make a quick stop to check it out.

It was enormous. Before being allowed to drive up to it, you have to go through a security checkpoint that seemed way more intense than it should be. And our car full of junk didn’t exactly scream “let me through”. After the guard mistook my (unused) pull up bar covered by a towel as a machine gun (because of all people to own a machine gun it’s me), we got through and walked out onto the dam.

DAMPictures don’t really do it justice – that thing was huge. There’s a really cool bridge you can see if you stand between those gray nipples in the middle.

Nipple BridgeIn my attempt to capture the steepness of the dam, I put my phone’s life (my life) in danger to get this anticlimactic photo.

Do not fall you will dieWe stayed long enough for me to get a sunburn (4 minutes) then hit the road. It’s one of those things that once you see it you’re like “cool” but then try to make it seem cooler to other people when you talk about it. But really you know that, in the end, it’s just a dam.

The dam is on the border of Arizona and Nevada, and we parked on the Nevada side. Which is lucky for me, because it allowed me to get sweet revenge on the Nevada State sign.

YEA TAKE THATWe crossed into Arizona and went straight for approximately seventeen thousand miles. I was surprised not to see the Coyote getting crushed by an ACME anvil along the way. We were getting low on gas, so we stopped at a small town along the road. While we were there, I realized that I meant to put air in my tires when we left California but never did, so we drifted over to the mechanic to have him check the air pressure. He told us all was well, but that my driver’s side rear tire was 10 years old and showed signs of dry rot. Using my extensive knowledge of automobiles, I informed him that my car was 10 years old so “it probably is the original tire” (surprisingly I have no technical training). His response was “that thing could come off in 100 miles or 400 miles, I can’t really tell – especially in this heat.” Well guess what mechanic. 3000 miles later it was still on my car. Sucker.

We decided to risk it and made our way southeast toward Tucson. As we drove further into the desert, the scenery began to change a bit. We started seeing many more types of cacti and rock formations. It was very… brown.

About 15 minutes outside Phoenix, I realized I hadn’t been outside for hours and that it was incredibly sunny. So I checked the weather. This happened:

YUPYES. THAT SAYS 113 DEGREES. And to make things worse, my phone was in Celsius.

Just kidding that would be 235 degrees Fahrenheit and the car would literally melt to the ground. But still, that was the hottest weather I have ever been in in my 22 years of living. Also note the city we were in. Fitting. (Also that was my Dad’s birthday HAPPY BIRTHDAY FATHER).

We got to Phoenix and luckily the temperature dropped to 111 so we decided going outside was bearable. We parked in the shade of an abandoned gas station parking lot to make sandwiches and stretch our legs. As Betz laid the lunchmeat and cheese on top of the car, I rummaged for the bread. He passed me the cheese and when I went to grab a slice, I noticed it felt weird. I looked in and realized that for the less than 30 seconds the cheese was sitting on top of the car (in the shade, remember), the entire block had melted together into one clump. I don’t know how people live in Arizona.

Then, as we ate our sandwiches, we witnessed a drug deal. I never want to go to Phoenix again.