Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Carlsbad, NM

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to have Friday and Monday off as holidays, so I decided I'd take a motorcycle trip to work on some of my long-term goals of visiting every national park, riding through every county in Texas (I added 15 for a total of 180 out of 254), and to visit state high points (this was only my second).

Friday morning it was cool, but I figured it would warm up as the day went on. Just before leaving I thought about bringing my chaps, but decided that if I needed a little wind protection I'd just wear my rain pants. It never really warmed up and by the time I stopped in Junction I was freezing cold. After filling up, having a snack and hot chocolate I put on all the warmest gear I had with me and continued down the road. The sun was only out briefly and the rest of the time it was overcast and stayed cool. I was still freezing when I got to my motel in Carlsbad at about 5pm MDT. I laid under blankets watching TV for a couple hours warming up before venturing out for some dinner. It wasn't until sometime in the middle of the night that I had warmed up enough to actually be hot under all the covers with the heater on.

The forecast for Sunday was better than for Saturday, so I flipped my original plan of going to Guadalupe Mountains NP on Saturday and Carlsbad Caverns NP on Sunday. Saturday morning after breakfast I went out and there was ice on my bike. After warming up the bike and wiping off as much ice as possible (the air temperature was above freezing at that point), I geared up and froze riding the 20 miles to the caverns.
After stopping to take a picture in front of the sign at the park entrance, I rode up to the visitors center. When I went to get my entrance ticket I realized I had forgotten my parks pass at home, but the ranger was nice enough to take my word that I have one. I went into the caverns through the natural entrance, where there were a number of bats flying around and you could really smell the guano. The route was not nearly as strenuous as they claim and was quite nice. Once I got to the end in the Big Room, I took the walk through it. I enjoyed seeing everything but didn't feel like I'd gotten a real cave experience, so I took the elevator back to the visitors center and they still had space on the noon King's Palace tour, which is also a paved walking tour but offers a blackout experience. There were a lot more people on the tour (75) than I would have preferred, but there were some great formations, my favorite being the "draperies" in the Queen's Palace. The rangers did a blackout and simulated the light of original explorer Jim White's lantern.
After finishing the tour I went outside and it was snowing. There was no accumulation on the roads but my bike was covered in ice and snow. I couldn't get the ice off the windshield, so the whole way back I had to look over the top of it to see where I was going.

Sunday started out pretty much like Saturday- gray overcast skies and a fresh coat of ice on my bike. I figured I'd head to Guadalupe NP anyway and headed down the 45 miles back into Texas. I ran into ground-level fog which made it feel even colder than the ambient temperature and it was cold enough the fog was condensing and freezing on my windshield. A half mile from the main entrance to the park, the road popped up out of the clouds and it was sunny and felt 10 degrees warmer. I went to the trailhead and got my hiking gear out, signed the registry and headed out on the Guadalupe Peak trail. The first section was relatively steep and I felt particularly out of shape. There was a family of five going up the trail and for a while I would pass them when they stopped for a break, they would pass me when I stopped. Once the trail flattened out I started moving more quickly and didn't see anyone for a while. After crossing a wooden bridge the trail got steeper again. I was sweating from the exertion but it was too windy to take my jacket off. I passed a couple who were sitting down to have lunch, and just before I got to the peak a couple passed on their way down. Once I crested the peak, a strong wind almost knocked me down. I enjoyed the view, took some pictures, but the wind kept me from staying very long. I didn't find a geodetic marker, but wikipedia says it's 8749 feet above sea level.
The hike down was probably worse than going up. The descent was hard on my knees and I had developed blisters that started hurting on the way down. The path is rocky the whole way so I couldn't go very fast for fear of twisting an ankle (which I nearly did more than once). Once I got back to my bike I packed up my hiking gear and put my riding gear back on for the cold ride back to Carlsbad. I had originally wanted to detour to go through another two TX counties, but I didn't have enough gas to make it any further than Whites City (the nearest station).

Monday morning I packed up to head out. My bike was a little wet but fortunately no ice. I rode through fog for the first 100+ miles until after I stopped in Andrews, TX. It was still overcast all day and never got above 50-something degrees, so I was freezing when I got home just before 5pm. I spent most of the rest of the night on the couch under a blanket watching TV warming up again.

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