Tag Archives: America

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.

Are those carrots from California?

The final day was here and I couldn’t have been happier to finally be arriving in La La Land. Not that the trip was going poorly, but over seven hours in the car each day doesn’t exactly bode well for personal hygiene. Or lumbar support.

We headed out of Williams and towards beautiful Southern California. Jokes on us though, to get to Southern California you have to go through Eastern California which is comparable to the setting of The Hills Have Eyes without deformed hellbent mutants trying to kill you for no reason.

As we entered the final state of our trip, I finished strong with state welcome signs:

REALLY?! Eleven states later and I still didn’t learn to turn HDR off.

A few minutes later we encountered something in California that we didn’t elsewhere in the country – in order to cross the border into the state you have to go through a “border control” that checks to make sure you’re not bringing in any foreign plants or animals to the state that can harm the ecosystem. Surprised? Neither was I. Hippies.

After convincing the border control lady we didn’t bring in any carrots from Colorado we drove the few hours into the city. Finally, after 7 days and over 50 hours of driving, we got our first glimpse of the City of Angels:

I was elated to finally be there. As expected, it was sunny, warm, all was right in the world.

As the trip entered its last 20 miles, I reflected on everything that I’d experienced over the past several days. Things that many people never get to see in their lifetime. It made me realize that this country truly is amazing. Lampshades in Toledo, Chicago, the Great Lakes, vast cornfields, the Midwest, Omaha, the Badlands, the prairie, Mt. Rushmore, the Black Hills, Wyoming (even Lusk), the Rockies, Denver, I-70, Arches, the Southwest, the Grand Canyon, Los Angeles. And it’s not just a gorgeous place – it’s incredibly diverse. Every area where we stopped seemed like it could be a country in itself. The people we met were all so different that you’d think they could never live in the same county. Yet they do and, at the risk of sounding cliche, together we form the melting pot that makes America so great.

What makes it even greater is that I knew I was doing it all over again in two months.

 

The Lampshade Capital of the World

As I finished up the last of my heart-wrenching goodbyes, I packed the last few things into my car for the long drive ahead. College was officially over, and I was moving to LA for the summer. The sun was breaking through the clouds in a very un-Pittsburgh-like fashion as my best friend and I climbed into my two door Honda Accord to start the long trip to sunny California. It was going to last 7 days and 6 nights with stops all across the country.

To understand the trip, you have to understand that my friend and I have a relationship that can only be described as “pushing the limits of the bromance”. Basically we’re two ball taps away from my mom “loving me no matter who I am”. It’s love in the straightest way possible.

So my definitely not boyfriend and I hit the road heading west. Our first stop was 8 hours away – Chi-Town. However we hit an obstacle before Chicago: Ohio and Indiana.

On a whim because I’m creative and spontaneous (aside from my numerous other positive qualities) I decided I was going to take a picture of the “Welcome to” sign at the border of every state we entered. Things started off great in Ohio:

This was followed by our first sight in this great state – a tractor trailer with not two but three trailers attached. This blew my mind because I’ve never seen this in PA, most likely because we have landforms. Needless to say Ohio was opening my eyes to the wonders of the free world.

When we got hungry, luckily, were about to hit Toledo. We’d heard of Toledo before, so we decided to find the nearest Chipotle (obviously). As we got off the highway, I realized Toledo was not the sprawling metropolis I had envisioned. Aside from Chipotle, I think the newest thing was an Old Country Buffet from 1987.

However it did have the following: a restaurant called “Good Food”, a hotel called “Best Hotel”, and most importantly an enormous store called “Lampshade World”. This proves that Ohioans are not only creative, but are on the forefront of technologic and economic prosperity. When I think “What is one product that is so versatile and profitable I could fill up a warehouse with it and call it a store?” I think lampshades.

We dined with Toledo’s finest, and after about 15 minutes of lampshade jokes, we got the fuck out of there, dubbing it “The Lampshade Capital of the World”. We crossed into Indiana, where my “Welcome to” sign picture taking ability greatly improved, and started counting down the minutes til we got to Chicago.

Day 1 had already been a whirlwind of exhilaration, and it was barely noon.