The “Final” Cross-State Romp (Days 1, 2, and 3)

The entrance to the national park
The entrance to the national park

Those who follow these blog postings know that we have had a goal to visit all fifty states as a family before Tom goes off to college.  These next few blog posts will document this summer’s vacation and our last seven (or so) states toward that goal.  We will complete this quest three days before taking Tom up to West Point to begin “Beast Barracks,” a.k.a. Cadet Basic Training.

Lunch in the Carlsbad Caverns snack bar
Lunch in the Carlsbad Caverns snack bar

Day one was just a travel day.  After working four hours Wednesday morning, I packed, and we headed to the airport.  After three flights and a Whataburger in the Dallas airport, we arrived at Ft. Bliss, TX, for the night.  The next morning we drove from Ft. Bliss to Carlsbad Caverns, arriving around lunchtime.   We had a pretty good lunch in the snack bar and then headed into the caves.

The natural entrance to Carlsbad Caverns
The natural entrance to Carlsbad Caverns

There are two self-guided tours of the caverns.  The first begins at the natural entrance, shown above.  We descended about 750 feet through a series of switch backs and trails through interesting rock formations.  We’ve been to other cave systems, and some of the Venturers have even done crawl-through-the-mud spelunking, but the shear size of these caverns is hard to imagine until you see it yourself.

Tom and Sam hang upside down like bats
Tom and Sam hang upside down like bats

The caves are inhabited by hundreds of thousands of small bats that come out at night to hunt (more on that later).  Their daytime perches are well hidden up in the “rafters,” because we never saw any during our four hours underground.

At the “bottom” of the natural entrance self-guided tour, is the “big room.”  This includes a snack bar and souvenir shop as well as latrines.  The latrines were interesting.  You walk down what looks like an unimproved cave “hallway” that ends in modern, porcelain facilities.  This area also has elevators to take you back to the surface — emptying you in the gift shop.

The snack bar and souvenir ship, 750 feet below the surface
The snack bar and souvenir ship, 750 feet below the surface

The second self-guided tour begins here and is of the “big room.”  This is where you really get a chance to see how big Carlsbad Caverns are.


The park ranger we met while descending into the caverns said that Carlsbad Caverns are the largest “rooms” of any caves known in North America.  The longest cave system (measured in number of caves? linear feet? hammerdoos?) is Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.  Serendipitously, we are going to see Mammoth Cave later in the trip and will provide our comparisons of the two.

It is difficult to see the scale of these caves, but they are at least 100 feet tall here.

Almost touching...
Almost touching...

After our four hours in the caves we checked into our hotel just outside the national park in White’s City.  The hotel was next to a small “water park,” which was included in our room rate.  We spent a little time on the giant water slide and in the pool before heading to dinner.  There is one restaurant in White’s City and Yelp destroyed it, so we went to Happy’s half way to the city of Carlsbad.

Happy’s was the kind of local hole in the wall we like to take in while on vacation.  There was a lot of kitschy stuff on the walls and scattered around.  While you sat in booths, you ordered at the counter.  The woman behind the counter cracked me up.  Sam wanted a small steak.  When I ordered it, she just looked at me and shook her head.  “You’re out of them?”  “No,” she replied in a conspiratorial voice, “They’re small, thin, purchased at Walmart, and the chef doesn’t know how to cook them.”  So, Sam had the chicken fried steak instead.  The “normal” hamburger that I had was 3/4 pound and excellent.  This place wasn’t much on ambiance, but the food was great!

I love this sign!
I love this sign!

After dinner we went back to Carlsbad Caverns for the night bat show.  Every evening about dusk, those hundreds of thousands of bats swarm out of the cave entrance for their nocturnal hunting.

See a nice video here.

Day three was mostly a travel day to get from New Mexico to Oklahoma City.  Along the way we made a couple of stops to break up the long drive.  Despite rain of Biblical proportions in the evening we arrived safely in Oklahoma City — to find out there was a mix-up at the hotel and our rooms hadn’t been cleaned.  We had to wait almost a half hour in the lobby while they called the chief maid back to prepare our room.

 

 One of my favorite fast food places is Wienerschnitzel, which specializes in hotdogs.  Their chili dogs are excellent.  These are all over Texas, and we used to frequent one when we lived in College Station.  I just HAD to stop and have some Wienerschnitzel chili dogs and their “Polish sandwich” as we passed through Lubbock.

Cadillac Ranch
Cadillac Ranch

Outside Amarillo, we had to stop at Cadillac Ranch.  For some unknown reason these cars have been buried nose down in the mud just off of I-40 West of Amarillo.  People go out and spray paint the cars.  What was kind of interesting as “pop art,” looks a little junky with all the used and partially used cans of spray paint strewn around.

Our last stop on our way through Amarillo before racing arks carrying pairs of animals to Oklahoma City was a real gem.  Just outside Amarillo is Jack Sizemore’s Traveland RV Museum.  These folks claim to be the oldest RV retailer in Texas.  Jack Sizemore has been collecting and refurbishing RVs for years.  He decided to devote some of his lot to erecting a metal building and turning it into a museum to give his customers something to do while waiting for their RVs to be repaired or serviced.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but this was a real pleasure to visit.

Tom closely examining the signatures on a picture in one of the trailers
Tom closely examining the signatures on a picture in one of the trailers

One thing that was nice is that you can enter almost every trailer.  They all have period-appropriate props and decorations.  Except for one or two things marked with “do not sit” or “do not touch” signs, visitors are free to go where they want.  There are no docents or guards.

Sam and Candy in one of the trailers
Sam and Candy in one of the trailers
A car and trailer "outside" an A&W restaurant
A car and trailer "outside" an A&W restaurant
Sam enjoys fake food at the A&W
Sam enjoys fake food at the A&W

This is an example of how visitors are allowed to interact with the various displays.  I found it amazing that there weren’t a bunch of rope lines to keep you away from the displays.

Considering my next move to CRUSH my opponent...
Considering my next move to CRUSH my opponent...
Visitors can enter every trailer and look around
Visitors can enter every trailer and look around
An example of how the trailers are arranged
An example of how the trailers are arranged

All the displays have signs in front of them to explain a little of the history of each trailer.

As I mentioned earlier, this little museum was originally built to give waiting customers something to do.  Look at this map showing the homes of people who have visited the museum.  Like Old Pioneer Village in Nebraska, this was an unexpected treat.

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