The day that I was most excited, and nervous about, had arrived.
We had done the self-guided tour of Carlsbad Caverns the day before, but my blog friend Shiroi had encouraged me to consider taking a guided tour of the cave as well. So, a few weeks ago, after talking it over with Kai and my wife, we decided to reserve a spot on the Lower Cave tour.
This tour takes a very small group down to a deeper part of the cave than we went to on our own. This area of the cave is not open to the general public; it is open only to those on the limited guided tours which are given only four times a week. The areas of the cave it goes to are mostly unlit, with the primary lighting being the headlamps on the helmets that are provided to you. It was exciting to think of this adventure, but very nerve-wracking as well. There were several ways this could go wrong.
The tour would start with a descent down sixty feet of knotted rope and ladders. Would Kai freak out?
The tour was three hours long, and this is a boy who can get restless after an hour if he is not interested. Would he start to get agitated?
We met our tour group at the visitor center where the rangers leading the tour handed out our helmets and gloves, and went through the rules. They asked each of us to give our name, tell everyone where we are from, and to say what we are passionate about. I was nervous about how Kai would handle his introduction. He sometimes gets agitated when asked to speak about something he doesn't want to.
But when his turn came, he loudly and clearly gave his name and our hometown, and said that he was passionate about exploring the cave. His old speech therapist, Alyson, would have been very proud. I just breathed a sigh of relief.
At the end of the introductions, the lead ranger, Katie, asked if everyone was here because they wanted to be here and not because someone like their parents forced them to be there. She seemed to be looking right at Kai when she said that, and I again sighed with relief when Kai confirmed that he wanted to be there.
And then it was time to start the tour.
We went down the elevator to the area of the Big Room where we visited the day before. From there we took a short walk to the place where we would descend into the Lower Cave. We would start by walking backward while hanging on to a knotted rope for support.
Kai did just fine. He later said said he was a bit nervous, but he didn't show it at the time.
Following the rope, we descended down three ladders. The rangers instructed us to go one at a time, calling out "On Ladder 1", "Off Ladder 1", "On Ladder 2" and so on so the next person could know when to get onto the ladder.
Again, Kai did well, both in managing the ladders and in calling out his progress as instructed.
I was starting to relax and enjoy the experience.
It was very cool to be in this secluded part of the cave with only 9 other visitors and the two rangers.
The darkness made the beauty of the cave stand out even more when our headlamps shined the light on it.
As we walked around, the rangers gave a lot of information about the cave.
In the following photo, she is showing a bat that became preserved forever in the stalagmite.
There was one place where the ranger had each of us walk individually through a long, narrow passage.
Here's what that passage looked like as I was walking through it.
At the end of the passage, we sat with our headlamps out, waiting in the darkness until each of us walked through one by one. When all of us had come through, we sat in total darkness while Katie, the lead guide, sang a song she had written about the cave. The acoustics of the cave accentuated her beautiful voice. When she finished her song, she lit a candle and read a poem. It was a perfect way to contemplate the beauty of the place and the moment.
From there, we had the option of crawling out of that passage, and everyone chose to do that versus taking a path where you could walk.
This tour was a huge highlight of our trip. Kai had handled it magnificently, and I was very proud of him.
There was still the matter of getting out of the Lower Cave. We had to go out the way we came in. First, we had to climb up the ladders.
And then walk up with the knotted rope.
We asked someone to take a photo of the three of us. Those of you on our holiday card list will likely be seeing this photo again.
After leaving the cave, we drove to Roswell, New Mexico. Roswell is most famous for the Roswell Incident, where a flying saucer was spotted about 70 years ago. We visited the UFO museum there which had numerous newspaper articles that tell the story, and make a case for UFOs existing.
We finished our day with one last swim. The air temperature was only about 50 degrees so my wife went straight for the hot tub, but Kai and I went into the heated pool.
For dinner, we had barbecue one last time. The ribs weren't as good as Terry Black's in Austin, but the brisket was as tasty as at any of the places in Texas.
All in all, a very good day!