Carlsbad National Park

Last summer the boys took their Dad to see the “big trees” in northern California.  Dad enjoyed it so much that I planned another adventure for Christmas.  Because of other commitments, this adventure involved a lot of miles on the highways.  On Sunday we traveled from Albuquerque to Burleson, TX to drop off the kids with their cousins and pick up Dad.  Monday Dad and I drove to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Tuesday we visited the cave, Wednesday we drove back to Burleson, and Thursday was the drive back to Albuquerque to be home for Christmas.

Ocotillo is a common plant in the Chihuahuan desert.

The weather cooperated,  the roads were clear; we had blue skies the whole distance, despite having snow the Friday before the trip.  On the East Mountain they got 2 feet of snow and I-40 was closed.  Fortunately by Sunday morning the snow was gone.

(As always, you can click on any photo in this blog to enlarge it.)

Road Trip Tech

The adventure at Carlsbad Caverns was enjoyed by myself and my Dad. We will continue to have adventures as long as we are both able.

A long road trip like this, with the better part of four days spent driving, goes better with the right technology along.  On this trip I tried out a new GPS navigator, listened to audio books, and experimented taking photos in the dark.

Garmin Nuvi 1350 GPS

Cholla cactus was blooming just in time for Christmas.

Garmin’s Nuvi line are automotive GPS units, designed for road trips as opposed to off-road use like most of their handheld cousins.  I had been using the Nuvi about town, but this was the longest road trip so far.  The Nuvi 1350 performed like a champ.  We were going to Ennis, TX first to drop off Abigail and Richard with their cousins.  (They did not want to see the cave.)  I had never been this route, usually going straight to Burleson.  The route to Ennis involved a number of exits and road changes in Fort Worth.  I almost missed one turn, but due to the Nuvi’s lane predictor I was in the correct lane to make the exit.  I’ve gotten lost in Fort Worth before, even when I know where I’m going, so making all the right turns on an unfamiliar route was great!


Prickly Pear is a very common type of cactus in the Chihuahuan Desert.

We like to listen to audio books when traveling.  I had loaded up the MP3 files into my iPhone before departure.  The car setup is a mild Rube Goldberg production: Bluetooth from the iPhone to the Jabra hands-free device, then FM to the car radio, which plays the audio over the car stereo.  The Trailblazer has a nice Bose sound system, but it does not have an aux input so we have to go through the FM.  The FM spectrum in the Dallas-Fort Worth area is completely used up.  Eventually we were not able to find even one clear channel for the Jabra to use.  At one point we counted 16 radio towers visible simultaneously!

One of the more famous stalagmites in the Big Room at Carlsbad Caverns is the "Rock of Ages".

Fortunately Albuquerque is not so congested, and the system worked great on the open road.  If you live in or near a large city like Dallas-Fort Worth I would not recommend any hands-free device that plays over the car radio using FM.  It may be impossible to find a clear channel to use for the hands-free function.  Even on the road, it was necessary to change channels frequently, as it was often the case that the single FM station in a small town was broadcasting on the frequency we had chosen for the Jabra!

The Lion's Tail is a long formation that hangs from the ceiling of the Big Room over the path. There are several of these very unusual stalactites in this location.

The Jabra is primarily designed as a hands-free device for a mobile phone.  It clips to the sun visor and has its own speaker so it is not necessary to use the car audio system.

Manual Lens

Carlsbad Caverns is known for the many different types of formations found in the cave. Here tall, thin stalagmites seem to be reaching for the sky they will never see.

For the visit to Carlsbad I needed a fast lens to be able to shoot in the cave without a flash.  The park service has done a fantastic job with lighting the formations, but a flash will wash out the subtle colors and textures.  Also, the cave is so large that a flash will not illuminate the larger areas.  My old SLR was Ricky, a Ricoh XR7 that used Pentax K-mount lenses; Ricky passed away when his electronics failed, but I had kept his lenses and they fit Penny.  Ricky’s prime lens is a Rikkenon 50 mm f1.4.  With that lens I was able to practically shoot pictures in the dark!  (I did not even have a flash for many years.)

Curtains of stalactite formations beckon the visitor to come see ever more amazing sights.

Of course, the older f1.4 lens is completely manual.  I expected to have to focus manually, but I expected the camera to recognize the aperture setting on the lens.  However, the camera does not stop down the lens when shooting, so all photos are taken at f1.4 regardless of the aperture setting on the lens.  This is not a problem underground, where the lighting is dim enough that the lens has to be completely open, but could be an issue if I am shooting in brighter light and want more depth of field.  I’m still learning about all the features of Penny, my Pentax K20D whom I adopted off eBay, and there may be a way to get Penny to recognize the aperture setting on the Rikkenon lens.  I tried one shot with the built-in flash, but it came out all white, so either I can’t use flash with this manual lens, or I haven’t learned how to set it up.

The Big Room contains several massive stalagmites.

On my last visit to Carlsbad I used Ricky with his f1.4 lens and 400 speed film.  I hand held the camera.  Not the best, I know, but the slides turned out pretty well.  This time I brought a tripod.  I think it did help, but it was inconvenient to set up in the pathway.  With the fast lens and anti-shake technology, most of the pictures come out just find hand held.  Pentax incorporates their anti-shake in the camera body, not in the lens.  This gives even my old manual lenses anti-shake capability.

A more serious issue is that Penny lacks a split image focusing screen.  In the dim light I found it difficult to manually focus.  I found myself estimating the distance, setting it on the focus dial, and then bracketing the shot.  Fortunately on a DSLR I can see the results immediately, and it’s no problem to throw away the bad shots.  Can you imagine doing this with a film camera?  I wouldn’t even know the images were out of focus until I had paid for the developing!  I can see that the next improvement to Penny is going to be a split image focusing screen.  Maybe she’ll get a nice gift for her Adoption Day this summer!

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Our day at the Caverns was split into three segments.  On the way in to the cave we took a short self-guided tour to an Indian shelter.  The big attraction was the Big Room in the cavern itself.  On the way out we took a side road through a Walnut Canyon.

The Indian Shelter

An interpretive trail led down to an alcove used by American Indians as a shelter from the hot sun.

An interpretive trail led down from the main road to an alcove that had in the past  been used by American Indians as a shelter during the day.  It is oriented in such a way as to provide shade from the hot sun during the day.  Interpretive signs along the short trail identified plants common to the Chihuahuan Desert.

This seasonal stream collects water from raistorms and channels it to a pool. The pool would have provided Native American people a pleasant diversion on hot summer days.

The Big Room

The Park Service uses various types of light sources to bring out the natural colors of the rocks. No colored lights are used.

We took our time on the self-guided Big Room tour.  I set up the tripod several times to take photos.  At the half-way point we took the shortcut back so Dad could use the restroom.  Then we walked back to see the far half of the Big Room.  All this walking got Dad tired out, and he was making liberal use of any benches along the path.  I noticed several park rangers were taking an interest in us, asking how we were doing.  I wondered why they were so concerned.  Though Dad was stopping to rest often, he did not look in distress, at least not to me.  The last ranger to ask about us let me know that we had been reported to be touching the cave formations, something that was strictly forbidden.  Either it was a case of mistaken identity, misinterpretation of actions, or maybe Dad had touched a stalagmite while I was taking pictures.  We got a polite warning to keep our hands to ourselves – no touching of rock is permitted in the cave.

Walnut Canyon Road descends down to the canyon floor, where we found evidence of recent flood activity. We could see debris left by water, but the arroyo was dry. The main entrance road to Carlsbad Canyon NP is on top of the hill in the background.

The Park Service has done a fantastic job with the lighting in the cave.  Lights are indirect and use a variety of bulbs.  Each type of light has its own “color temperature” due to the materials that emit the light.  The Park Service has matched incandescent, fluorescent, and mercury vapor lights to the minerals in the cave to bring out the natural colors.  Though you can see various colors in the rocks, no colored lights were used.  The color temperature of the light source brings out the natural color within the rock.

Walnut Canyon Drive

We did not take any tours of the other rooms in the cave.  Dad was pretty tired after walking around the Big Room.  Instead, we took a driving tour of Walnut Canyon.  I was hoping to see some wildlife, but the sun was still high in the sky and the birds were under cover.

Barbary Sheep are native to North Africa. They have been introduced to the American Southwest as a game species.

While Blaze is an SUV, he does not have 4-wheel drive, and was a little worried about driving to the bottom of Walnut Canyon.  Blaze handled the descent with aplomb, but while we were stopped on a slope scanning the brush for birds, Blaze’s low fuel warning light came on.  No problem, this is probably due to all the fuel flowing to the forward part of the fuel tank, away from the sensor.  Except that once level again, the fuel gauge continued to show “empty” and the low fuel warning stayed on.

What happened?  Did a fuel line break during the descent to the bottom of Walnut Canyon?  Were we to be stranded off the main road where help would not be passing by?  An external reconnaissance found no evidence of a fuel leak, so we carried on.  Eventually, after 20-30 minutes, the fuel gauge returned to a normal reading and the fuel light went off.

Barbary sheep are normally difficult to see, but this herd was grazing on the slope next to the road and seemed in no hurry to leave.

Coming up out of Walnut Canyon, we took the main entrance road back to the exit from Carlsbad Canyon NP.  On the mountain slope next to the road we saw a herd of Barbary Sheep contentedly grazing.  I quickly stopped and snapped some photos, afraid they would leave at any moment.  The Barbary Sheep paid no attention to us, so I grabbed Ricky’s other lens, a Sakar 80-250 zoom, installed it onto Penny, and got some good close shots.

Roadside Markers and Signs

I like to learn about the history of the countryside I travel through.  Roadside markers are a good way to do this.  Here’s a selection of the markers found near Hobbs, NM on this road trip adventure.

We stayed two nights in a hotel in Carlsbad, NM. The faint odor of hydrocarbons permeated the air, due to the large number of oil and gas well in the area.

There is not much in Hobbs except for large numbers of shops catering to all the services needed on the oil fields. But with a sign like this you won't miss the town.

Hobbs is a hub for the oil and gas industry in southern New Mexico.

The section of US 180 passing through Hobbs is dedicated to Kenneth Towle, a NM highway commissioner hailing from Hobbs.

On the way from Hobbs to Carlsbad, we were treated to one of the most spectacular sunsets ever.

While traveling through Texas, we stopped at signs commemorating events in the Texas War of Independence and the days of the railroad barons.

36 of Dawson's company were killed by artillery during the Battle of Salado Creek, in which 210 Texans repelled an invasion by 1600 Mexican troops on September 17, 1842.

300,000 acres were awarded to the wrong railroad company in 1873. It took 17 years for the error to be resolved, and caused much distress to the people who had bought land from the railroad that did not legally own the land.

Thanksgiving at Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey

Gregory is a member of my Sabbath School class.  During his lifetime he has had varied experiences, including living for several years at the Benedictine monastery in Pecos, NM.  Gregory invited us to join him for the Thanksgiving dinner at the monastery.  The invitation was appreciated as Abigail was flying in from Andrews University on Tuesday night, and returning Sunday morning.  Driving to Texas for the large family gathering would have been trying to cram too much travel into too short a time.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey is located along the Pecos River.

We decided to take the scenic route to Pecos, first going south to I-25, then east to Moriarty, and taking NM 41 north.  We were hoping to see some wildlife on the scenic two-lane road.  This decision was taken despite the fact that it had snowed the night before.  Temperatures had dropped below freezing, but the ground was not frozen, resulting in snow melting and forming patches of ice.  The passengers did not seem to notice, but as the driver I could tell when we lost traction.  Blaze has a traction control system, and its lights were coming on, but it does not do a lot of good on ice.  Lots of nervous energy was expended on the drive up.

A large tapestry of St. Benedict dominates the wall of a ditting area in the main building.

We planned a full day at the monastery: Mass at 9:30, hors d’ouvres at 1:00, dinner at 1:30, and Vespers at 5:00.  Not coming from a Catholic tradition, I was not sure what to expect, but I expected it to be meaningful in any case.  I had visions of a choir of monks performing Gregorian chants during the services.  When I mentioned this to Brother Bernard, he responded, “Pray that it may be so!”

The monastary campus was originally a dude ranch. It was purchased by the Trappists and is now operated by the Benedictines. The "Jericho" building has housed a greenhouse, honey processing facility, candle making, rock polishing and other crafts.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey houses a small community today, perhaps a dozen residents including two nuns and a couple priests in addition to the Brothers.  In times past the community was much larger, and according to Gregory they started daughter houses in Tucson and Hawaii.  Those houses are thriving, but most of the residents in Pecos are elderly.  Brother Bernard is one of the younger monks, and he is moving to Italy shortly.

Brother Coleman runs the bee operation for the monastary. The brothers operate hives across the Pecos area. Today the pollination that bees provide for crops is their most important function. Honey sales are a relatively small part of operating beehives. Here Gregory is demonstrating how to remove honeycomb.

Brother Victor is an expert with plants and was in charge of the greenhouse, but he has moved away.  Brother Coleman is the beekeeper.  Gregory was his assistant during his stay at the monastery.  Brother Todd is the cook.

Along the river are located the Stations of the Cross.

I was speaking with Brother Bernard after dinner, telling him about my trip to Poland in 1985.  In the years before Warsaw became the capital, Piotrkow was a royal city (the summer capital, I think, with the capital being at Krakow).  There is a church in Piotrkow dedicated to Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, killed on Henry II’s orders in 1170.  I was remarking on the communications in medieval Europe, that a church in Poland, not close to England, should be dedicated to Thomas Becket.  Brother Bernard immediately jumped in with the real reason that a church building in a royal city was dedicated to the memory of a saint martyred on orders of a king: it was a political statement by the Church on the independence of the Church from the State.

Logs and benches are arranged in an outdoor ampitheater. The area is located under cliffs and next to the Pecos River. During Gregory's stay at the monastary the area was used for spiritual gatherings by areas youth. Gregory would help illustrate the the Biblical story of Elijah at Mount Carmel by hurling burning rolls of toilet paper from the cliff, lighting a bonfire in the ampitheater.

A large boulder makes a convenient podium for the speaker at outdoor gatherings.

Father Simeon celebrated the Mass.  He is newly arrived from Poland and mentioned he had traveled through 40 countries so far.  His Slavic accent reminded me of my grandfather.  Speaking to him later, I found Father Simeon to be a man of few words.

Works of art are found throughout the monastery grounds. This wood sculpture, located along a path beside the Pecos River, depicts Rachel weeping for her children, a reference to the Biblical story of King Herod slaying all the young children in Bethlehem after Jesus' birth.

During his stay at the monastery, Gregory has worked with local youth.  They had campfires under the cliffs next to the Pecos River.  Gregory took us on a walk about the grounds, showing the areas where they had held these outdoor gatherings.

Gregory is pointing to the spot where he baptized his son in the Pecos River.

Thanksgiving dinner was very traditional: turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes.  There appeared to be an equal number of guests as residents in attendance.  Brother John read Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation before everyone filled their plates.  During the meal Christina performed a contemporary dance to the Moonlight Sonata.  I am not clear as to Christina’s relationship to the community, although it appears she has been staying there for a while.

the Pecos River runs through the monastery grounds. The brothers have put in this dam to create a pond where they can fish.

During my conversation with Brother Bernard he popped a question, “Christian or Jew?”  Evidently Gregory has been bringing a number of Jews to the monastery.

“Christian, but Protestant”, I replied.

“Don’t tell me … you’re Baptist?”  “No”

“Episcopalian?”  “No”

“Pentecostal?”  “No, I’m Seventh-day Adventist”

Like most items at the monastery, this bridge over the Pecos was donated. It is raised high because during the spring runoff, the river carries a lot of debris. If lodged against the bridge, the debris would create enough water pressure to push the bidge off its foundations.

At which Brother Bernard launched into a joke.  I’ll repeat it here because I thought it was funny.

A man purchased a new RV, and needed to drive it through New York City.  He approached an Irish policeman for advice.

“I need to drive my new RV through New York City.  When would be the best time.  I don’t want to get a scratch on it.”

“Well”, the cop replied, “I think early Sunday morning would be best.  The Jews are on the golf course, the Catholics are at Mass, and the Protestants are not up yet.”

The gentleman was happily driving his new RV through the nearly deserted streets of New York early Sunday morning, when bang! he was rear-ended.  It was a Seventh-day Adventist late for work.

Brother John read Abraham Lincoln's proclamation of Thanksgiving Day before the meal.

Later in the afternoon Gregory and I took a drive up the canyon to the campground, which was closed for the winter.  With about a half inch of snow on the ground at the higher elevation, we saw large tracks that could have been those of a mountain lion.  Also tracks of elk.  The road was icy which made for slow travel time and caused us to miss Vespers.  The adventure ended with a drive after dark on I-25 past Santa Fe back to Corrales.

Adventure Map

Thanksgiving at Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey at EveryTrail
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