Family, Great Outdoors, Travel

Road Trip 2016: Carlsbad Caverns

Wow. This post is so overdue. Since our road trip back in April, we have gotten very little sleep. Bear Shark has taken to fighting nap time and bed time. He’s also learned to open doors and will come into our room in the middle of the night. I forgot how exhausting these early toddler years are until they figure out that sleep feels good. Like I tell my students (maybe a little too often), I NEED yoga in my life so I don’t strangle my kids!

Huge storms had been rolling through Central Texas for weeks leading up to our big road trip. We were excited to get away from the rain and had three National Parks on our itinerary: Carlsbad Caverns, Mesa Verde and White Sands. We just so happened to plan our trip during the 100th anniversary celebration of the National Parks Services, so entrance fees to all the parks were free during this time!

Of course, we had to get out of the storm systems first.

Thunderstorms stretched the first couple hours of our drive.

Thunderstorms stretched the first couple hours of our drive.

We headed west toward the hill country and had a very scary almost-spinout near Johnson City. That would’ve been a sucky way to start a 5 day road trip! Thankfully, my Subaru’s magical computer powers kicked in and we got control of the wheel before we could reach the shoulder. We were on the road by 7 am, so traffic was light and the kids snoozed off and on.

The drive through the hill country was beautiful. By the time we got to Fort Stockton, we took a little lunch break before heading north toward New Mexico.


Eating lunch in the back of the hatch. We did a LOT of eating in the car on this trip.

To describe driving through West Texas… BOOOOOORING. Nothing in sight. I was disappointed we didn’t even see any tumbleweed. We took a more direct route to Carlsbad Caverns, which meant we were on two-lane roads and dealt with a lot of huge trucks. It was a bit of a race for time because they close entrance to the Caverns at 2pm. We were worried we wouldn’t make it, but when we crossed the border to New Mexico – we gained an extra hour! Thank goodness for Mountain Time!

Visitors center at Carlsbad Caverns

Visitors center at Carlsbad Caverns

The kids were pretty cranky after such a long drive, but the weather was gorgeous. We couldn’t have been happier to see blue skies. With two little runts, we were expecting to take the elevator down to the Caverns. Unfortunately, the elevator was out of service that day. Drat!

Our only other option was to hike down the 800 feet from the Natural Entrance. The Park Ranger along the walk to the Entrance made sure we were warned of the steep, long and winding hike that was ahead of us.

Warning before the Carlsbad Cavern Natural Entrance

Warning before the Carlsbad Cavern Natural Entrance

We went forth anyway with backpack full of water and camera in hand! What we should have also taken with us was the hiking backpack we borrowed from a friend. Rookie mistake here. Bear Shark was so eager to run around after being in the car that long; we thought this might be a good way for him to burn some energy. Oy.

Looking down into the Natural Entrance

Looking down into the Natural Entrance

All this zig-zagging was just to get down to the main Cavern floor. You still have to hike a few football field lengths once you’re down to the bottom to access the Big Room. Mind you, without a working elevator, we would have to hike BACK and UP to get out.

Looking back up at the Entrance

Looking back up at the Entrance

We moved slowly to conserve our energy. Impressively, the Big Kid did a lot of the hike on his own two legs. Although, by the time we got to the bottom, he was whining and crying. He wasn’t a huge fan of Longhorn Caverns (said it was “creepy”), but we weren’t ready to turn back.

The first “room” that opened up was so vast. We tried to spot all the different stalagmites and stalactites. Some of them looked like popcorn and others like ice cream. This was my first time using my Dad’s DSLR, so unfortunately, all my Cavern pics are blurry. I probably need some lessons on that.

We took the short loop once in the Big Room, which they said could fit 8 football fields. It was very humid and cool in there, and I’m pretty sure at some points, you could see steam come off of us when we started sweating from exertion.

The return hike was rather comical. Bear Shark fell asleep in my husband’s arms, which meant he got to carry 25 lbs of dead weight all the way back up. The Big Kid took a few piggy back rides, but we also tried to make a game out of the zig-zags. He hiked the entire main incline out of the Entrance.

We were completely and utterly pooped. And also in AWE. Nature, you blow my mind. Who knew all of this was hiding underground? So amazing. And I’m so glad we are able bodied enough to go experience it fully. I don’t know if we would’ve really understood how deep the Caverns go if we had taken the elevator instead. (Although, maybe we’ll take it next time. That hike was no joke!)


Our final destination the first day was Roswell, NM. That was also probably one of our favorite meals. I picked a random Mexican restaurant that was near our hotel, and it was DELICIOUS and cheap.

More to come of our travels!

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  1. The entrance to the cavern looked nuts!! I’m glad you guys enjoyed the trip. This entire entry makes me want to go on a vacation!

    Have you ever heard of verlocal? We should take a photography class together and they offer them there.

    Thanks for the read. It was nice reading someone else’s work for a change.

    • Terri says

      Off to google verlocal…

      Glad you enjoyed the read! Working on cranking out a few more before the memories fall out of my head. 🙂

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