What Time Is It?

Camping inside Guadalupe Mountain National Park is notable for the dramatic setting presented to travelers sharing the trail head to Guadalupe Peak, the highest peak in Texas at 8751 feet elevation–fronted by El Capitan, it’s foremost surveyor’s point.

El Capitan

Access to the park is available to limited numbers of tents, trailers and RVs behind the Pine Springs Visitor Center, where the Guadalupe Mountains fan out in a protective panorama. Reservations are unavailable, as it’s first come, first served dry camping that is best described as boondocking in narrowly aligned asphalt stalls, where utility hook-ups and dumping stations are non-existant.

It was a crap shoot, but after a four-hour drive from Marfa, we score one of twenty available RV sites that are quickly filling up around us. An abundance of solar cell arrays dot the parking lot-with thirsty batteries soaking up sun rays needed for later use–while I, in turn, crank up the Honda 2000i generator to attend to our personal energy needs.

Our new neighbor, Mr. and Mrs. Salt and Pepper from the Sunshine State pull up beside us just as I disengage the F-150 from the Airstream, in search of the turn-off from the Guadalupe Pass that services the McKittrick Canyon Trail.

During our late-day hike, our marginal shade is supported by occasional juniper pines and Texas madrone…

Tree of Lifeas we cross several dry river beds…

canyon wallalong the arroyo to Pratt Cabin, a Depression-era structure built entirely of stone.

Pratt CabinRocking chairs under a cool porch provide perfect respite from the simmering sun.

porch

Upon returning to the Airstream, we follow parking lot protocol with dinner preparation plans en masse, prompting Mr. S&P to cautiously knock on our screen door.

“Howdy, neighbor,” I announce through the screen with all good intentions. “What’s up?”

Holding back, but clearly annoyed, he addresses me in a veiled voice. “I hope you’re aware of the rules about running your generator,” he reprimands.

Gauging his tone, but uncertain of the point he’s trying to make, I answer, “Okay?”

“So were you planning on turning that thing off anytime soon?” He is more ordering than asking.

“Well, sure,” I try to reassure him, “but it’s only 7:30. I still have half an hour before quiet time.”

“I don’t think so,” he challenges, pointing to his watch.

He’s now flanked by his wife, who’s approached the Airstream to reinforce her husband’s position, and it becomes clear that he’s been put up to the task.

“Did you tell them about the rules?” she intervenes. “Tell them to read the rules by the bathroom.”

“I did, dear. He knows all about it,” her husband relents.

Now looking pointedly at me, she asks, “So why’s that thing still running? It’s 8:30, you know, and you’re out of time.”

“Look,” I start out. “I think you’re mistaken about the time. As I mentioned to your husband, I still have half an hour to go.”

“Not according to my phone,” she insists, waving her iPhone.

Leah joins me at the door to even the playground odds. “Then you must’ve forgotten about the time change,” Leah interjects. “We just crossed the border from Central to Mountain time, and you forgot to turn back your clocks.” Rubbing it in, “Didn’t you get the park memo?” she says smugly.

“Sounds reasonable,” she shrugs. Are you certain?” doubts Mrs. Salt and Pepper.

“You can’t rely on your phone,” Leah tutors her. “For some reason it’s not showing up yet.”

Mrs. S&P nudges her husband, teasing, “I can’t believe you didn’t know that.”

“Shit happens,” I announce, side-stepping the S&P’s on my way down the Airstream stairs. “While time is still on my side, please excuse me while I tend to the chicken on the grill.”

Walking away, Mrs. S&P mutters to her mate, “I feel like such a fucking idiot!” Then, calling out to me, “By the way, that smells sooo goood.”

Returning to their RV box, I overhear Mr. S&P lament, “I told you not to bother them.”

I remain exalted in my vindication. At precisely 8:00 pm, I cut the generator din, restoring tranquility to the campground community where I’m no longer the menace of Guadalupe Mountain.

And I am absolved when the quiet of the thin mountain air carries the collective sigh of my next-door neighbors through their hollow RV wall.

Carlsbadland

If Disney were to design a cave attraction, he couldn’t do any better than Carlsbad Cavern, for deep within the Guadalupe Mountains of southeast New Mexico lies an enchanted forest of mysterious-looking limestone formations.

long ears (2)

The journey begins at the ticket counter, where for the price of admission, a visitor can access the cave from a nearby switchback path, or take a high speed elevator 800 feet down to an exploration crossroads that leads directly to a food concession stand.

elevator

While there are a few adventure hikes below the surface for limited numbers of ardent spelunkers, a majority of the nearly 3,000 visitors a day (on average) are content to follow a one-mile self-guided tour of the Big Room along a narrowly paved walkway, where featured formations are illuminated by hidden spotlights and protected from access by stainless steel handrails.

To the casual observer, the speleothems (e.g. stalactites and stalagmites) look like random thousand-year-old mineral deposits. But to the trained eye, many of the formations–whether disguised within wall recesses…

faces

Groot

or standing straight and tall in plain sight–

Chinese emperor (2)

double as custodial creatures who stand guard by rock castles,

castle on the rock

brocoli

and towers…

double dicks (2)

to protect them against invaders who are so fascinated by their structural beauty, that they must scale their delicate walls.

Like vintage Disney design, the spectacle that is Carlsbad Cavern is overwhelming to the senses. Whether it’s looking up at the lion tails,

lion tail (2)

and the crystal chandelier…

chandelier

or looking at popcorn streams beneath rippled water…

natural stream (2).jpg

…it’s difficult to imagine not being seduced…

shaft (2)

by all the stunning eye candy.

eye candy (2)