An Initial Rush Tour of the Southern Southwest

After leaving West Texas, we blew through the southern parts of New Mexico and Arizona on our way to San Diego, so I’ll do the same here. San Diego marked one of our few deadlines: our friend’s film was part of a shorts program at the San Diego Black Film Festival, screening on the last Saturday in April, so we had to make good time through the south-southwest.

After leaving Texas, we first stopped at Carlsbad Caverns. We decided to walk the two-plus miles down into the caverns rather than take the elevator, despite this forbidding sign:

Nice inadvertent Halloween font
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Dan at the Natural Entrance, or the mouth of the cavern
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The last bit of natural light before descending.

I can’t really compare Carlsbad to anything else; I felt like I was at the bottom of the ocean but also in an old-school horror film – but in a good way (eventually). I struggled with the first half-mile to mile of the descent because of my claustrophobia. We hiked into the caverns on a bright, clear day, and the contrast between sunny natural desert light and the selective spot-lighting in the caverns disoriented me a bit, while the consistently 58** degree air temperature plus 90% humidity made me feel a little feverish in a cold-and-clammy way. I focused on the exercise aspect of walking such a steep decline, and once my eyes adjusted I felt much better. As usual, Dan was fine.

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How initial explorers of the caverns ascended and descended. No thanks!
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The path helps illustrate the enormous scale of many of the geologic formations.

We intended to camp between Carlsbad and our next-day’s destination White Sands, but we weren’t ready to brave the high winds that swept through New Mexico that week. 25 mph sustained winds plus 40 mph gusts also prevented us from exploring much of White Sands. I had to dodge a good-sized tumbleweed on the highway!

Our third closed interstate in the past four months.

We wanted to hike the Alkali Flats trail, but after about half a mile out into the dunes, visibility was so low that we could barely spot the next trail marker. I’d love to come back and do some more exploring the gorgeous dunes, despite gypsum sand sticking to everything (my cousin warned me it would, and we still had gypsum in the car nearly a week later).

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Visibility got bad fast.

I almost don’t want to tell people about the secret highlight recommended to us in New Mexico. By happenstance we met a bad-ass native west-Texan and she told us we had to stop at Faywood Hot Springs, which wasn’t far off our planned route.

We made more cat friends, unsurprisingly.

In Arizona, we found a great way-point in Saguaro National Park and Tucson. We hadn’t planned to visit this park, but it was perfectly positioned as a good resting point between New Mexico and San Diego.

Also, those iconic cacti.

I didn’t realize how tall Saguaro cacti grow; adult plants can top five stories and weigh eight tons, although it may take half a century for them to mature. No Gila monsters spotted, but also (somehow) no snakes.

Oh come on!

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