Driving out of El Paso, towards Carlsbad Caverns, we realised that we were going to be driving past Hueco Tanks, a world class bouldering destination. Although I'm not a big fan of bouldering in general, what with all the landing on the ground, falling onto the ground, and people having "boulder problems" that are 20,30,40, and even 50 feet high, hueco was meant to be the bee's knees, and I couldn't just drive past without stopping in.
We stopped in. We paid. We watched a video about being nice to the rock art and the environment. We got cards we had to sign so that we wouldn't have to watch the video for another 6 months. Then the rangers stopped talking to us. Stupid Texas Parks and Wildlife. Perhaps they would have less issues if they actually seemed interested in what people were planning on doing. The park allegedly has some rare types of rock art. It's probably in the area you aren't allowed into without a guide. We sure as hell didnt' see any. So they have that, but until recently, no-one cared. The park had all these concrete slabs put down in the middle of all the rocks for picnicing, and broken glass and graffiti. Now the tables are removed, but the concrete slabs remain. But climbers are the bad people.
Katie and I wandered around the North Rock, looking for interesting boulder problems. We found a couple. We found a few others that were highballs, or had landings in cactus, or were simply too hard. Certainly nothing world class. Some very nice scrambling around and pools of water. It is definitely quite pretty.
We found a neat cave to explore though, which tunnelled right through a chunk of mountain. On our way out, we got quite a surprise, when I nearly stepped on a rattlesnake. I heard rattles, and had no idea what the sound was, and looked down at my feet, saw what it was, and all of a sudden was about 6 feet further away :) Katie was less than impressed, as it meant that we'd both walked past him on our way in, and Katie now had to walk out past him. She ran for it in the end, trying to skirt as wide as possible, and although it turned to her and waved it's head, it didn't do anything more than that.
Browsing the snake books at national park offices later on confirmed it's status as a Western Diamnondback, the biggest and the best. I'd been hoping to see a rattlesnake, and I got to see one, but I'd still have been happier if it had been a bit further away :) It's a pretty cool sound though, and the black and white striped tail is very interesting.
Continued looking for boulder problems, with about as much success as earlier, when we got to the end of where we were allowed without a guide. So we left. Hueco sucked. If it has world class bouldering, we sure as hell didn't see it. And we even met a couple bouldering who said they almost never boulder here, they just come for the roped climbing, which they said was far better.
Drove to Carlsbad Caverns. Another run in with stupid border patrol wanting to know why we were going to carlsbad and what there was to do there. Some very scenic driving through the Guadeloupe Mountains NP, big limestone cliffs and ridges, and actual forested slopes. Got a warning from some sort of law enforcement officer (not police) for speeding. The speed limit is only 55 through the park.
Got to Carlsbad in time for the evening bat flight. This is where everyone comes and sits in an amphitheatre in front of the original natural entrance. (Most people take a lift down these days) The ranger talks about some of the history, including the fact that the bat flight was how people found the cave, and then everyone sits quietly and waits. Then all of a sudden a bat or two fly out, joining the odd bird swooping around catching insects, and quickly on their tails the flood gates open. Bat upon bat upon bat. Mexican freetail bats, in tens of thousands, pouring out of the cave mouth, spiralling in the opening and then streaming off across the hills in a thick black line.
And it goes forever. We watched for about 20minutes, before we decided it was time to go and get a camp, and they were still pouring out as strong as ever. Well worth seeing. Unfortunately being at carlsbad at this time of day means you don't have many camp options. White's City is the closest township, and is a horrible monopoly. The entire town is owned and operated by the Best Western, and is little more than a glorified motel. $20 for some very rough lumpy grass, and that was with a AAA discount. Anything else however is quite a way away. There's national forest on the other side of the park, but you have to take a very long way around to get there.
The next morning we were back up for a tour. Carlsbad Caverns has to be seen. A lot of tourist caves are just caves, but this place is huge, and extremely decorated. They have a path around what they call "The Big Room" which is even self guided! I'd never seen that in a cave before. (They even have an undergound cafe and gift store, another first) Part of the loop around the big room is even wheelchair accessible.
Aside from really cool rimstone type things, formed on the surface of water that then receded, and giant columns and things, there was the biggest chunk of breakdown I'd ever seen. Absolutely monstrous. Probably 50m long, and 15m thick. With features on it's bottom, that are now all pointing at an angle.
Western Diamnond Back rattlesnake
Batflight at Carlsbad Caverns
King's palace section of Carlsbad Caverns
Big column in Big Room of Carlsbad Caverns