• 2014 New Mexico Trip : Carlsbad Caverns

    Wednesday April 30th 2014

    Just start. Don't worry where it ends up, even if you risk it ending up someplace that you're not going to like, like Texas.

    What is true for traveling by motorcycle is also true of writing. When I travel with others, regadless of who it is, I never seem to take the time to gather my thoughts and compose them into words. It somehow seems rude to take so many hours away from close friends that mean the world to you when you see them so rarely.

    There have been many moments over the last couple of weeks worthy of articles that will likely never get written.

    There were the incredible small twisty roads we explored in Virginia and West Virginia, the turn of the century hotel we stayed at where a room with two double beds was actually two complete rooms, the time on Beale Street in Memphis listening to countless Blues Bands and, for an unfortunate and completely unintentional moment over dinner, the screeching sounds of the worst death metal I have ever heard, the predatory women that seemed to be everwhere there, the green gentle beauty of the Ozarks and the cabin we stayed at, the wind, the relentless punishing wind that started pummeling us senseless as soon as we left the hills, the endlessness that was Oklahoma and how surprised we were that route 412 across it was, despite the wind, a nice ride, the views around Los Alamos and the surrounding countryside, and so many others.

    Then there are the souls we have encountered along the way. Bob, a pastor of a small church outside of Memphis, who rode his FJR out to meet us on Beale street who we 'enabled' to go for a ride with us towards the Ozarks. A kind and considerate man with many responsibilties and challenges. "You should join us. It's really not that far." A very disciplined rider we introduced him to the Sena SMH10 communicator. We talked for a while. "I'm a motorcyclist, not a biker. There's a difference." He has a tatoo on his arm, "Trust the Journey", which has become one of the recurring themes on this trip. There are some people you meet who you know you can ride with immediately. Bob is such a person.

    There was Michael who, when he realized we were about 40 miles away just after leaving the Ozarks, rode his big Harley down to join us for a while over dinner. While we were preparing for this trip, he kindly took the time out to suggest many local roads in the Ozarks. I felt bad that we had so little time there and weren't able to explore any of them. I hope to go back and ride with him at some point.

    There was Bruce's friend, Adrian, the 27 year old German Phd Student, who is working on his first Phd in Physics which he is about to finish. In August he goes to Berkelely to start his second Phd in Nuclear Physics. On top of that he has an Electrical Engineering degree. He also rides so we 'enabled' him to shirk his responsibilities to join us for a number of rides around Los Alamos.

    There was Sven, Bruce's friend and Adrian's Phd adviser, who is also German. Unfortunately his bike was not running so he couldn't join us. While sitting around in a hot tub we had 6 guys trying to diagnose hsi big chopper in the hopes he could join us, but it was not to be. I did however stay up entirely too late with Sven listening to German Metal and discussing software while he intermittendly pulled out one of his several accordians to play some of the best accordian I have ever heard along with whatever metal video was playing on his custom engineered streaming video player (Rammstein on Accordian? who knew?)

    In the presence of Sven and Adrian I feel entirely unaccomplished and uneducated.

    There was Bruce and Ha and how well they took care of me while I stayed with them. Not just friends, close family, and they have been that for ages. There was the moment we talked John into bringing his wife Lucy up to Bruces so we all spent some time together. There was so much life in the house for the weekend.

    So many stories, but the moving hands writes and those time have past and if I try, as I had intended, to capture those times gone by I will miss the time right now.

    Bruce and Ha had wanted me to stay with them. A very big part of me wanted to stay. I feel more at home in their company than I do in my own house, but the road had been calling to me strongly for some days. I think I need some time alone on long roads. Once again I find myself in that place, despite my best efforts, where I need to See, Think, and Feel Differently. Somehow, on this trip so far, that sense of the road getting inside has not happened. I've been closed and disconnected and I don't know why. Maybe it's the familiarity. Having done it too much over the last few years it's losing it's potency.

    Or maybe I just need to up the dose like any other addict. Bruce and Ha had suggested that Carlsbad Caverns was a place to see despite it being a long straight boring ride. Interestingly, that appealed to me.

    After riding through a dusting of snow to get to Starbucks to meet Bruce, I left Los Alamos late on Monday and rode through some of the most punishing winds I've ridden through in ages. 40+ mph sustained wind with random gusts of over 60 conspired to beat me senseless for 200 some odd miles. It felt like 800.

    I stopped and grabbed a hotel in Roswell. Note to self, if possible don't eat at Applebees.

    The nice lady behind the counter at the hotel suggested I go down Main Street to see the alien head street lamps. "They glow green at night." she said. I was too beat to get back on the bike. The wind had taken it out of me.

    The next day, I got up fairly early. There was a Yamaha Super Tenere rider who I chatted with for a little bit about local roads. He said he was heading out to ride route 191 in Arizona. He's heard about it for years and said it's supposed to be fantastic. Rania from RevZilla also suggested it, so I decided at that moment that I would go take a look see the next day. I slowly made my way towards Carlsbad to take a look at these Caverns. "It's a spiritual experience." Bruce had said. Bruce rarely says things like that.

    As I left Roswell, there were, in fact, alien head lamp posts.

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    It had been suggested to me to go to the Alien Museum but I'm not a fan of kitch so I opted to make some time. I had somehow imagined that Roswell would not look like just another town, but it looks entirely generic to me. Maybe I'm missing something.

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    There was significantly less wind. The Caverns were only 90 some miles from Roswell so I didn't have to rush. As I neared the mountains on the horizon, I noticed a dirt road that climbed a strangely compelling hill. "I gots to know where it goes." I thought to myself and possibly said out loud for no one to hear. In part, I guess I wanted to confirm that I could still ride in low traction. In part, I just can't seem to avoid a good dirt road.

    "Who needs a GS adventure bike?" I thought as I climbed the rocky twisty hill which turned out to be rutted and filled with quite a bit of goldball and larger sized sharp gravel.

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    Up is always easier than down on a motorcycle. In walking, it's the opposite.

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    I made it back down the hill without incident or scare and headed off to the state park. The entrance road is 7 miles long and rolls through this little canyon. You find myself wondering how there could be any caverns around here, let alone the largest limestone caverns in the Western Hemisphere.

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    At the time I rode it, the road was deserted. Upon reaching the parking lot I immediately knew I was going to like this place.

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    I went inside with helmet, jacket and tank bag in hand hoping to be able to store my stuff somewhere. The nice gentleman behind the counter informed me that since 9/11 they had removed all the lockers and they were not allowed to store anyone's stuff. "We rarely have any problems." he said. "I wish I could guarrantee it for you, but obviously I can't."

    This is one of the problems with motorcycle travel. What do you do with all your gear and stuff? I put the tank bag back on the bike and locked my helmet in place. I had hoped to put my jacket somewhere as it's quite heavy, but alas I was going to have to go hiking in my transit suit.

    I went to get a ticket and the woman asked which I would like to do, the natural entrance or the elevator. The Natural entrance is something like a mile long walk that descends 800 feet. The main cavern itself is a 1.3 mile loop. Hearing "These boots are not made for walking." in my head, I wisely said "the Natural Trail please."

    After a short orientation about the rules I started my stroll. They say that even a normal level voice can travel over a quarter mile in the cavern. You're not allowed to touch anything. The oils from human skin damage the varous formations in the cavern.

    Along the way there was a bit for foreshadowing. I've seen something like this before. I think I made the same decision that I've made before.

    On I strolled.

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    At the right time of year, you can sit in this ampitheatre and watch the bats fly out. I suspect Audrey would really like this.

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    I still didn't quite understand where this cavern was. Then I saw this hole. "That can't be it." I thought as the path clearly went in that direction.

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    When I approached the edge of the hole and looked down a let out a "Whoa!" which promptly echoed for some time down into the depths alerting all to my presence. I stopped and listened. Did I hear drums?

    I looked to see if "Speak Friend and Enter" was inscribed anywhere. Suspecting that this was not, in fact, Moria, I started my descent into the bowels of the earth.

    I have always been strangely drawn to the deep dark places in the world.

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    The walk down was impressive beyond words. After a short while it became cool and the only illumination was from dim lights. Without these lights it would have been pitch black. Being an awestruck tourist I foolishly attempted to snap hundreds of photos of which only a few turned out. They simply do not capture the magic of this place. I am not sure that any words, any photos, anything other than being physically present in this magical place can convey the feeling. You simply have to go.

    I found myself wondering why humans ever evolved the ability to feel 'awe'. One is overtaken by a deeply reverant feeling. Everyone was quiet as even whispers could be heard over great distances and there truly were great distances in this seemly endless cavern.

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    I talked to one of the park rangers asking about wildlife. He explained that the simple presence of humans in the cave with the hair and skin cells we leave behind just by being there is affecting the cavern. Spiders that are not native to the cave now make there way down along the path and with that other predators including snakes. "But away from the path there isn't much other than bats."

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    I walked one for some hours. The Transit Suit jacket became quite heavy after a while. By the time I had made the loop all the way around I wisely decided to take the 800 foot elevator up instead of trying to climb back out. "Up is harder than down when walking." I reminded myself.

    I will return to this place some day and take their guided 'off path' trails to explore some of the more inaccesible areas. There's an entire lower cavern which is just mind boggling given that the big room can accomodate a 747 and is in places 300 feet high.

    All I can say is I would gladly make the ride across the country again just to see this place again. If you are anywhere near New Mexico, simply go. Experience this place. The Park Service has done an exceptional job at preserving it while make it accessible. It's not cheesy like some East Coast caves. It is a place to be quiet and wonder, much like the feeling in the large European Cathedrals. Just go.

    By the time I reached the surface, my suit had reprised it's Toxic nature and had, once again, become an extremely effective form of birth control.

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    I had lunch, bought a card and a DVD. I was pleased to see that my gear had not been touched. I slowly made my way towards Clifton, AZ where this route 191 starts. It was a bit further away than I had anticipated. The GPS routed me down around El Paso. "Texas." I thought. I have not had good times in Texas. The last time I was here, in '92, we had an unfortunate meeting with a number of Texas Rangers. Not nice men.

    I was surprised to see the 75mph speed limit. I missed, or more likely, ignored the 55mph speed sign once I entered a section of park land on this deserted road. A trooper came in the other direction in a vehicle I did not immdiately recognize. The lights went on. "Shit." I thought, "I've been in Texas for less than 10 minutes." Given that I was going probably 20+ over, I had visions of court dates and other hassles.

    I pulled over immediately, slowly got off the bike and removed my gloves and helmet deliberately and in clear view of the officer. I took off my sunglasses and stood there.

    To my surprise the officer was very laid back, professional and courteous. "I need you to slow it down through the park."

    After a short while after giving him my info, he came back. "I'm giving you a warning. Tone it down. Have a nice day."

    I went on and eventually descended into hills and then serious flat that went on for hours. I came across sketchy towns that I opted not to stop in.

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    I continued on for some hours well past dark. I arrived feeling a bit differently. Seeing the caverns opened me a bit. Maybe the road can get inside now.

    I leave you with a sunset over Texas.

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