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I am not exaggerating when I say Carlsbad Caverns is one of my absolute favorite places I have ever been. If you ever loved Indiana Jones or the Goonies (and I can’t imagine why you would be here reading if you didn’t), I’m 95% certain you would enjoy this place as much as I did.

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I am in an enormous cave!

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Can you guess who is more fired up about cave exploration?

There is something about walking around in a giant nature-made cavern 750 feet underground that made me want to grind my teeth into a fine powder of excitement. It’s so big, I couldn’t maintain any directional bearing (the paved walkways and lighting helped). It’s also impossible to photograph the size and scope, so I just walked around with my head cranked back and my mouth hanging open (watch out for guano).

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Textured cave bits. I think Tim Burton designed the latter.

Adding to the wonderment, guano miner and cowboy, Jim White, discovered this place because of the zillions of bats flying out. The 19-year-old proceeded to explore around the absolute darkness with a kerosene lantern, a ball of string and a Mexican boy he called Pothead.

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Jim White’s hole complete with bat-viewing amphitheater (more commonly called the natural cave entrance).

I didn’t use the natural entrance and hike down as it was pushing last call at the caverns. Instead I took a surreal elevator ride down 750 feet. The elevator monitor guide pointed out that this is 1.5 times the height of the Washington Monument (which I remember seeming really, really uncomfortably high). Yes, for all who asked, there is some sort of underground concession stand, but no, it does not ruin the experience. You don’t really see it if you’re speedwalking to see everything before the lights go out (which would be terrifying). The lighting and pavement are not natural but without them, people would be walking all over the place wrecking everything…and not seeing anything in the complete and utter pitch blackness.

And it’s all worth it because along the way you see things like this:

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And this:

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Oh Nature. You really got me with that one.

As I found, an hour is not enough time to properly explore that place. Next time I come calling I will budget a full day, so I can walk down (rather than elevate), and I will bring a big ole nasty ass camera with lenses, so I can attempt proper pictures of its majesty.

Eventually I emerged at the top crust of the earth, squinty and delighted. I walked to the bat viewing area, but bats don’t like December’s chill, so they stay away until May or so.

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How else are they going to pay for those tiny desks and books?

I poked around the visitor center, bought Jim White’s story and admired their gutter water dispersion device.

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So cute I could just spit in it.

Too soon it was time to return to the town of Carlsbad to rest for the drive through far west Texas and up to Las Cruces. Though I think by now I have effectively expressed my passionate and borderline creepy affection for this tourist destination, lest there remain doubt, I leave you with this:

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