Update 14 (continued)

Guadalupe Mountains National Park: March 11 and 14 (Location 9 on the Map)

Seemingly in the middle of nowhere in north Texas sits Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The mountains are what remains of a 400-mile long marine fossil reef that was formed here 260 million years ago. Because of its remote location and its relative obscurity as a National Park, it's likely that the only people who visit it are those who are already visiting Carlsbad Caverns just 50 miles up the road.

On our way from Big Bend to Carlsbad Caverns, we stopped at the visitor's center long enough for Justin to excitedly (and loudly) look at the many wildlife displays. He made it a point to say something to almost everyone there, and even managed to interject himself into a couple of ongoing conversations. The ranger whose ear he bent for awhile said it was the most entertaining conversation she'd had all day.

A few days later, we returned to do a 4.4-mile hike out to Devil's Hall, a rugged canyon with walls made of layers of rocks. It almost seemed like we were walking between the brick walls of two buildings instead of through a canyon. When the creek is running, there are a series of small waterfalls near the end of the hike. Since there was no water during our visit, Justin had fun scrambling around on the rocks in the creek bed.

For photos from Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Click Here

Carlsbad Caverns National Park: March 13 and 15, 2007 (Location 10 on the Map)

After touring caves at Kartchner Caverns in Arizona, Wind Cave in South Dakota, and Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, we figured we'd experienced just about everything a cave could offer. It was with that attitude that we visited Carlsbad Caverns National Park. After two days of walking below ground in the huge caves there, we changed our minds and can say that Carlsbad tops them all.

The fossil reef that became the Guadalupe Mountains also formed Carlsbad Caverns. As the reef was forced up over millions of years to form those mountains, rainwater seeped down through cracks and faults in the limestone. The water mixed with hydrogen sulfide to form sulfuric acid, which dissolved the limestone and left what we now call Carlsbad Caverns.

We did two of the self-guiding tours while we were there. We accessed the first tour via an elevator, and were shocked to see a restaurant and gift shop 750 feet below the surface. (The Hatfield Law of Natural Attraction might need a corollary to address this unfortunate phenomenon). This tour took us through the highly-decorated and immense Big Room, where we could see examples of stalactites, stalagmites, popcorn, soda straws, draperies, flowstone, as well as other formations. The trail was easy enough that Justin walked it himself.

The second tour we took started at the so-called Natural Entrance, which is where everyone entered the cave prior to the construction of the elevator in the 1950's. It's also where thousands of bats enter and exit nightly in their search for food. This tour requires you to descend 750 vertical feet on foot over a mile to reach the main areas of the cave. Due to the steep descent, I carried Justin in the carrier for this tour.

For photos from Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Click Here

Petrified Forest National Park: March 19, 2007 (Location 12 on the Map)

After leaving Carlsbad, we traveled north to Santa Fe for three nights. I hadn't ever visited Santa Fe or Taos, and wanted to take the opportunity since they were on the way to Petrified Forest. We had lunch one day with my friend Garrett and his fiancee Monica at a nice place that did nothing to help us fight off the bulges we acquired during our inactivity in Florida. It was Garrett who sparked the idea for this trip a year-and-a-half ago. I joked that the least we could do was pay for the $60 lunch to thank him for this great idea of his that's costing us thousands of dollars!

We left Santa Fe and headed to Petrified Forest National Park, another place I'd never been to. When trees fell here 225 million years ago, streams carried them into nearby floodplains where they eventually were covered up with silt, mud and ash. As erosion has occurred over time, the quartz-like hardened fossils have remained as the surrounding earth has been removed.

We could have used another day to see more, but still got a good idea of the area and what the park has to offer. We took the 28-mile drive that meanders through the Painted Desert before heading south through the rest of the park. There were numerous opportunities to get out and stroll the short trails and overlooks. We saw endless samples of petrified wood, plus an abandoned pueblo and petroglyphs from the 1100's. It's a worthwhile half-day stop if you happen to be in the area.

For photos from Petrified Forest National Park, Click Here

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