Carlsbad Caverns, Aliens, and Assorted Sights in Southeastern New Mexico

Caverns, Aliens, and Waterfalls…..

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Another summer week, another road trip….

Four friends decide they need a little excitement in their summer.  What do they do?  Pile into a “full size” car (how a certain rental car agency defines their soup cans) and head south into the sun (and heat).  Now, our group of four (my hiking and road trip adventure posse) had done some planning after Christa saw on tv that beautiful waterfalls exist in New Mexico.  Who knew?

Sitting Bull Falls is roughly 5 hours from Albuquerque, but it’s in close enough proximity to Carlsbad Caverns National Park and to the UFO Museum in Roswell to make an entertaining road trip…so we went.

Smokey
Smokey Bear

Loaded up with a cooler full of water, a bag full of snacks, Amy’s road trip CD’s (and ok, maybe a few bottles of wine), we headed out early, deciding that if we were going to road trip, we might as well do it up right.  Stop #1: The Smokey Bear Historical Park in Capitan.  I’m sure most of you know the story of Smokey Bear (and it is Smokey Bear, not Smokey the Bear), but I bet many of you didn’t know that little Smokey came from New Mexico.  An orphaned cub, he was found after a forest fire in the area in 1979, after which he became the ambassador for forest fire awareness.  Smokey lived out most of his days at the National Zoo in Washington DC, but was returned to be laid to rest in his native Capitan, NM.  You can visit Smokey’s grave and take some time wandering through a nice little museum with lots of pictures and information…and the sheet music to the Smokey Bear song which Jen had been singing to us prior to arriving in Capitan. She was a Brownie after all and it is a catchy little tune.  Admission is $2.  That gets you access to all the exhibits and a clean restroom!

About 30 minutes down the road, you’ll arrive at Stop #2:  the now sleepy little town of Lincoln.  Not much goes on in Lincoln these days, but if you are a western history buff, you’ll know that the town was made famous by a very violent period of history in New Mexico and that some serious poo with Billy the Kid went down in this little town. Lincoln is fairly quiet on a weekday in the middle of June.  You will need to purchase tickets if you want to go inside any of the buildings or you can do as we did….hum Bon Jovi’s Blaze of Glory, wonder about what happened to the cast of Young Guns, and check out the very interesting historic buildings still left standing in Lincoln.

It’s hot in southern New Mexico. Triple digit, full sun hot…and there’s not much in the way of food or drink in Lincoln on a Tuesday, so we jumped back in the soup can and headed out for Roswell to find some lunch before making our way to Carlsbad Caverns for the evening.  We’ll come back to Roswell in a bit because it too has some interesting things to see, but for now, I’m going to recommend a yummy, local lunch place, Big D’s Downtown Dive.  Big D’s has an assortment of excellent salads, sandwiches, and burgers.  They also have amazing garlic fries with fresh, finely chopped, garlicky garlic.  We all had some, thank God, because while they are amazingly tasty, they are not breath friendly.

It’s probably about 105 degrees at this point in our trip.  The soup can has no window tint, but it does, thankfully, have a functioning air conditioner.  90 miles to Carlsbad Caverns and the caverns never sounded so good – they stay at 56 degrees F year round. As we make our way to this amazing National Park (yep! your National Parks Pass is good here), we start wondering about how, exactly, Jim White discovered the caverns as a teenager in 1898 (give or take a year or two).  Was he just walking around when he discovered a big hole? And was brave enough to crawl into complete and utter darkness? Not worried about his personal safety or about plunging through the ground to his death?  We quickly decide it makes sense that a teenaged boy discovered this place and also determine that our group of four will never discover a massive cavern as we’re all far too concerned with things like heat, safety, being in the dark, finding spiders, and/or plunging to our deaths.

There are two ways into Carlsbad Caverns: elevators or hiking trail.  If you are physically able, I’d recommend walking down into the cavern via the hiking trail because it gives you a sense of how massive Carlsbad Caverns is.  (If you elevator in, don’t worry!  You still have a chance to see much of Carlsbad’s splendor and many parts of the cavern are wheelchair accessible).  The trail into the caverns descends over 800 feet in just over a mile.  Your shins will feel this the next day.  (IF you are absolutely insane, you can also hike back out this way.  The rest of us take the elevators up). Once you make it to the bottom of the cavern, you have the opportunity to walk all or some of a loop where you can marvel at the insides of this cave.  I’ve been to the Caverns more than once and it never gets old. I’m going to post a few photos here, but let me say that photos simply do not do justice to the beauty you will see here.  They just don’t.

After our hike around (we spent about 2 1/2 hours in the caverns – there’s THAT much to see), we decided to hang around to watch the bat flight. Carlsbad Caverns is home to some 500,000 (or so) Brazilian free-tailed bats.  The bats fly out of the cavern every evening at dusk to go eat insects.  You can have a seat in the amphitheater and watch them fly out of the caverns en masse.  It’s a pretty impressive sight. (You cannot take photos of the bats so you’ll have to take my word for it.)

After a night’s rest in Artesia (about 40 miles from Carlsbad with much cheaper lodging), we got up early to head down to Sitting Bull Falls – the original destination for our trip. On the approach to Sitting Bull Falls, you’re going to be thinking that there is no way a waterfall could ever spring up from the dry, flat, desolate land that you’re driving over.  In fact, at about the halfway point, you’ll consider turning back thinking that you must have made a wrong turn somewhere.  After passing lots of sand and cactus and a few free range cattle, you’ll see the landscape start to change, and after time, tucked away in a rock canyon…voilà! Sitting Bull Falls.

Sitting Bull Falls is a National Forest site so that means two things: your

Sitting Bull Falls
Sitting Bull Falls

parks pass is good here and there are clean restrooms.  Don’t forget your bathing suit as you can swim in the pool at the falls.  On a hot day, you will think of nothing else but jumping into that water. The hike from the parking lot to the falls is about a five minute walk on a paved trail.  You’ll pass over a rocky surface at the end of the trail to get into the pool itself. The water is supremely clear and it’s cold.  I mean it’s really cold.  The water temperature reminded me of the feel of water in the rivers of Montana..you know, snow runoff.  After taking a few photos, we stripped down to bathing suits and got right in…well, I got right in.  Brrrr….The other girls took a minute or two to adjust to the bone chilling temperature, but once we were all in, the water felt incredibly refreshing.

Out of the falls, we dried off almost immediately, jumped back in the car, and headed

Artesia1
Sculptures in Artesia

back up the road to Artesia. While Artesia doesn’t have the draw that Carlsbad or Roswell (more coming on that) do, there are quite a few art installations downtown that are worth checking out, including a series of larger than life sculptures depicting the history and people in Artesia.

Our second road trip night was spent in Roswell.  Roswell, New Mexico is famous for….aliens and UFOs.  You heard me. Aliens. And UFOs.

Roswell2
Aliens in Roswell

In 1947, a flying disc reportedly crashed just outside of Roswell.  Since 1947, the town of Roswell is crazy for all things extraterrestrial.  If you haven’t been to Roswell, it’s kind of a trip.  In many ways, Roswell is a typical small American town.  But in other ways it’s incredibly eclectic, in an alien focused kind of way. The downtown lamp posts are in the shape of alien heads, mannequins in store windows are alien and not human, and there is an alien of some sort in every parking lot and on every sign in town.  Roswell is also home to the International UFO Museum and Research Center.

The UFO Museum has grown a bit over the years.  Here you’ll find some exhibits showing what happened at the 1947 crash, information on the people that were first upon the alien crash scene, alien and UFO art, tales from people who believe they’ve been abducted by aliens, and so on.  Some new things have popped up here since my last visit, like this UFO complete with aliens, but most of the actual research and abduction stories are still the same which leads me to believe that aliens became bored with abducting us humans in about 1982…

Roswell1
International UFO Museum and Research Center

Still, with a Groupon going on right now, this museum is worth a stop for a little fun.  You’ll be amazed at how many people from around the world stop by here on a monthly basis. So take a look around, take your photo with an alien and upon exiting the museum, buy an alien souvenir.  I mean, who doesn’t need an alien beer coozy?!

6 comments on “Carlsbad Caverns, Aliens, and Assorted Sights in Southeastern New Mexico”

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