Tag Archives: hiking

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”:


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.

It looks just like the pictures.

Driving through Arizona was flat and hot. We could see for miles, made two turns, and at one point a slight right. I fell asleep driving for 20 minutes and when I woke up we were still alive and going the right way.

I didn’t actually fall asleep because of the adrenaline that was running through my body. The road we took was two lanes but passing was allowed which is fun and pants-shitting scary at the same time. After a while I was getting pretty bold and managed to pass not one but two busses. BALLSY.

We got to the Grand Canyon mid-afternoon. We visited the South Rim which is kind of like Disneyland because it’s crowded with little children and fat people. The North Rim is supposed to be much more woodsy and give you that one with nature feeling but it was too far away from our campsite to be reasonable. So we joined the masses and went to some lookouts.

What we discovered is that we were very underwhelmed. Here is the first view we got:

Sure it’s pretty, but it’s just like every picture we’d ever seen of the canyon. It actually looked like there was a canvas in the distance with it painted on. From that high up and that far away you lose any point of reference and can’t appreciate it as much as it should be appreciated.

So we left.

Just kidding. We went to the visitor’s center and got the low down on what to do. The area is so big that there is a bus system that runs to different parts of the canyon. Since we only had one afternoon and evening there we picked out a couple things to do before the sun went down. By now it was late afternoon and exactly the time that they recommend hiking down into the canyon, so we made that a priority.

All over the place were signs warning you about hiking into the canyon. The rule of thumb is one step down equals two steps up, meaning that however far you go down into the canyon, it’s going to feel like double the length to get back because of the steep incline you have to climb. So you may not feel tired going down, but going up is going to be a bitch. Also they warn about getting dehydrated, lost, and dying. No lie. Apparently temperatures down in the canyon can get up to 120 degrees, hikers don’t bring enough water or food, and they overestimate how in shape they are. They basically try to scare you into not hiking.

But we said “nah bro” and  went down with no water or shoes.

We took a trail that’s a mile and a half long and went down about 700 feet or so into the canyon. The hike began by turning back and forth down a cliff wall. There was mule poop everywhere which made me think how scary it would be to ride a mule down into the canyon. I’ll use my feet thank you.

The hike was one of the best parts of the trip. It really made us appreciate the canyon way more than just looking at it from above. After the turning back and forth, the trail started snaking around the canyon and gave us some beautiful views:

It no longer felt like a picture but more like what we were expecting. After being underwhelmed, we were now overwhelmed with the enormity of the canyon.

Here’s a view from inside:

When we got to the bottom of our trail we read a sign that said we just walked through several hundred million years of erosion and rock. Nuts right? I grabbed a rock that was like 945 million years old.

The turnaround point jutted out over more of the canyon like so:

I gazed out, grabbed my lion cub and this happened: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HwSKkKrUzUk&t=3m1s

After putting my child king to sleep, Justin and I hiked back up the canyon. They weren’t kidding when they said it was like doing double time. We had to take several breaks and drank a ton of water until we reached the top. It was worth it though. Definitely one of my favorite parts of the trip.

You’re allowed to hike all the way down to the Colorado River and camp there for a night or two. It’s a day long trip one way, so we couldn’t do it. However it’s now on my bucket list.

We walked a short path along the rim of the canyon and called it a day but only after meeting two guys that were also from Pittsburgh. Small world.

We hopped in the car and headed to Williams, AZ where our campsite was. Little did we know we had quite the evening ahead of us.

Home, home on the ridiculously windy prairie.

Driving through the rolling hills and buttes (lol) of South Dakota was cool, but it paled in comparison to the jagged, rocky cliffs juxtaposed with lush, green prairies that went as far at the eye could see. We hadn’t even arrived at the entrance of the park and were already amazed. This was like nothing we’d ever seen before.

We’d arrived at the Badlands.

We stopped twice before even hitting the Visitor’s Center. The view was amazing. These formations were the strangest I’d ever seen. With various types of rock creating nifty designs, you could literally see back in time (stole that from the brochure). These mountains, or rock formations, or whatever you want to call them – pokey hills – I’m doing a terrible job of explaining this – went on forever. Here’s what I mean:

(That’s my finger up there.)

After getting past the visitor’s center and throwing hissy fits because we wanted to stay at different campsites, we figured it out, kissed and made up, found our site and set up our space station. We then realized we were pretty much in our neighbor’s campsite. I don’t know what exactly gave it away, maybe the fact that their tent (which was significantly less impressive that ours) was no less than five feet away. We got there first though so sorry, family of four, you get to listen to us giggle at our farts all night.

Next up – hiking. And lots of it. Being the young, strapping lads that we are, we took one of the hardest trials we could find (and that time allowed – it was getting to be evening) and set off. Going up a few hundred feet in elevation, we literally were scaling the cliffs at one point, we hiked and hiked until we went as high as we could. And it was worth it. Looking out over the top, we could see the South Dakotan prairie rolling beneath us, on and on. We could see bison (nope, just cows, we later found out) grazing in the distance. Behold:

Wow look at that

Like most awesome things like this, the pictures don’t do it justice. At all. I snatched a piece of rock for my things (you could literally just break it off the wall) and we hiked back down.

As night approached we went to our campsite to make food. Our neighbors let us borrow their equipment because ours wasn’t working. That’s what I love about camping – everyone looks out for each other. Even if one party intrudes on the other’s space and refuses to move.

We made grilled cheeses and heated up pre-cooked chicken from WalMart. For those of you rushing out to buy pre-cooked chicken from WalMart thinking that it’s a good idea because if it thaws out for too long it’s not a big deal (because that was my reasoning) – just risk the food poisoning. I’m 94% certain what we ate took a good 4 years from our lives. Two months later and I still think I’m still pooping it out.

As we moaned in pain from the food we ate we watched the beautiful sunset behind the rock formations/bathroom:

Into the chateau we went, ready for bed after a long day and an early wake up call. But mother nature is a bitch. The Badlands, as it turns out, is named so (at least partially so) because of it’s ridiculous extremes in weather. The wide, flat prairie that we slept in was like sleeping on the wing of a 747 during flight. It blew so hard that the tent nearly collapsed. It continuously bent in so far that throughout the entire night it hit parts of our bodies and woke us up. It really made me appreciate the struggle the three little pigs went through.

There was one saving grace – the night sky. The Badlands are known to have one of the clearest skies in the country, as there is virtually no light pollution (except that lovely bathroom) and we didn’t have many clouds. Looking up at the sky was insane – never had I seen so many stars. We could see everything, even planets. It seemed to make the wind more bearable. Then our feet got smacked again.

At the crack of dawn we were packed up and ready to go. Little did we know the fun in South Dakota wasn’t ending just yet.

(Fun fact about the Badlands: They were created by sediment and then erosion over time. The area that is the Midwest, especially the Dakotas, used to be covered by an enormous sea that built up the sediment. When the sea dried up, the Badlands were created through various types of wind and water erosion and, because it’s made of hard and soft rock, is constantly being washed away and built up again. That’s what makes them look the way they do. Bad news though, the Badlands could be gone relatively soon (in the geological sense) if the erosion keeps up. So you better go see them.)