Friday, March 31, 2017

Texas-New Mexico Vacation: Day 6 - On to Carlsbad Caverns

It was time to leave Texas and drive to southeastern New Mexico. But first, Kai and I made one more round of Marathon, TX at dawn to catch a few more Pokemon. Kai was especially happy this morning as we found a rare Pokemon.

After breakfast, we drove all morning, and traffic was surprisingly heavy with trucks. But we made it to New Mexico and had lunch at a Mexican restaurant near Carlsbad Caverns.

And then we headed over to the national park.

On this day, we took the self-guided walking tour. We walked down the Natural Entrance trail.

At this point, we had no idea how deep we would go. It seemed as if every time we thought we had gone far down into the cave, the trail would continue even deeper. Altogether we went down 750 feet.

When we got into the cave, our mouths gaped open in wonder, and stayed that way the whole time we were in there. Words cannot adequately describe how spectacular this wonder was.

The following photo shows the view looking down as we were walking down the trail.

I was pleased with how my photos turned out, but even still they totally fail to capture the grandeur of the cave. The photos can't begin to show how long large the cave was, but also don't do justice to the beauty that was everywhere you looked.

Kai seemed to really enjoy the experience.

The Natural Entrance trail connected to the Big Room trail.

We walked quite a bit, but with minimal complaints from Kai. Toward the end he got what seemed to be a shin splint, but fortunately he was able to complete the walk.

Altogether, we were in the cave for about 3 hours.

Many areas within the cave were given names by the first explorers. This is an area called fairyland.

The following are some of my favorite photos from inside the cave.

This next photo was taken in an area of the Big Room known as the zoo as many formations are like animals you would see in a zoo.

Carlsbad Caverns is not convenient to any big cities. But I encourage everyone to put a visit here on your bucket list. You won't be disappointed.

After we left the cave, we went to our motel. We were disappointed that the outdoor pool was not open. The man at the front desk said it was too early in the season for the pool. I thought that was odd as the temperature was in the 80s and one of the main reasons we chose this motel was the photos of the water slides they have.

Kai got over his disappointment quickly as we went out to look for Pokemon.

We had dinner at a Chinese buffet restaurant as we wanted something different from all the Mexican and barbecues we had eaten.

We closed our day by returning to Carlsbad Caverns for the nightly flight of the bats out of the cave. It was still a bit early in the season, but we had heard that because of the warmer weather this year, the bats returned earlier than usual. At about sundown, they all fly out of the cave to feed at night.

There was a small crowd gathered. No photography is permitted.

A little after sundown, a few bats emerged. But compared to the bat flight we had seen earlier in the week in Austin, this was disappointing. The number of bats were far fewer, and they emerged from the cave very sporadically instead of in one large mass. I wanted to wait to see if a bigger bunch would emerge later. But as it got darker and darker, the number of bat did not increase. The crowd started to disperse and Kai was anxious to leave. I don't know if more bats emerged later, but we decided to call it a night.

Still, it was a fantastic day as the cave was a phenomenal experience. And we would experience more of it the next day.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Texas-New Mexico Vacation: Day 5 - Big Bend National Park

Our fifth day in Texas would be spent exploring Big Bend National Park on the southern end, bordering Mexico. We wouldn't be able to eat lunch until later, so we had a good breakfast at a neighboring cafe. My wife had huevos, I had stuffed french toast, and Kai had a chocolate chip pancake.

We drove about a half hour to the entrance of the national park. Just after we entered, we saw a family of hog-like animals including his one.

The scenery was desert magnificence.

Cactuses were just starting to bloom.

In another week or so the desert will be even more alive with colors.

One of the most popular parts of the park is Santa Elena Canyon, striding the Rio Grande River, and the U.S. - Mexico border.

My one big goal for the day was to take a hike into the canyon.

Kai seemed up for the hike.

Until we started to climb.

The hike would take us up toward the top of the canyon before going back down to the river again. After just a few steps up, Kai started to complain. It was a bit warm, around 80 degrees, but it was a dry desert heat with no humidity. And this was the coolest day of the week.

But the boy who had boundless energy chasing Pokemon and running me ragged all through downtown Austin the other day was gone. There was no cellular service in this remote area, and that meant no Pokemon. All of his motivations for walking were gone. The slightest climb suddenly became a huge hill to climb, both figuratively and literally.

The following couple of photos were taken on our way back. I put them here to show you the heights we climbed.

It was difficult. Not the climb, but Kai's complaining. But eventually we got to a place where the trail flattened out and then headed downhill.

It was actually quite pleasant with a nice breeze, and it even felt cool in the shade.

And so Kai became fun, happy Kai.

He became especially happy when he was able to cool off in the Rio Grande.

The canyon was gorgeous.

We had a snack of beef jerky and Cheezits and then made our way out.

After lunch, we drove to another part of the park that had a hot spring that someone long ago had walled off right next to the Rio Grande River. This was my wife's favorite part of the park as the hot spring was reminiscent of a Japanese onsen.

Kai preferred the cooler water of the Rio Grande to the hot spring water.

We were at the park until late afternoon. We easily could have spent another day there to see and hike more. But I was very happy that we had seen the sights I really wanted to see. And that Kai was mostly happy despite being Pokemon free for much of the time.

For dinner, we went to a local pizza place. The pizza was good though we could not finish the whole thing.

And then after dinner, just as the sun was setting, Kai and I strolled through the little town to look for Pokemon.

It was a good day, perhaps my favorite one on the trip so far.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Texas-New Mexico Vacation: Day 4 - On the Road

Before we left San Antonio, we took one last walk along the River Walk and found a spot for breakfast.

We found a cute cafe that had some delicious food. Kai had this Mexican pastry with chocolate inside.

My wife had the brisket and avocado taco while I had the Alamo Benedict. Instead of hollandaise sauce, it had the most delicious salsa I have ever tasted.

And then it was time to leave. We were on the road for most of the rest of the day but made a couple of stops.

The first stop was for lunch at Rudy's BBQ, a popular Texas chain. Kai had the sausage while my wife and I shared the ribs and brisket. Everything was good, but it did not compare to Terry Black's BBQ in Austin that we had two nights before.

The only other place worth stopping that day was at the Judge Roy Bean Museum. We watched a short film that told the story of the man who became "the law west of the Pecos" in the late 1800s. We saw the saloon where he held court.

The area also had a nice cactus garden.

Many of the cactus were just starting to bloom.

Our destination that day was the old Gage Hotel in Marathon, which would serve as our launching pad for exploring Big Bend National Park the next day. After using the swimming pool, we had dinner at the hotel restaurant. The 12 Gage is upscale, but with so few choices we had made reservations there to ensure that we would eat. It turned out that almost all of the patrons were seniors. We were the only family there and Kai was by far the youngest in the restaurant. We were self conscious and wanted Kai to be on his best behavior, and fortunately he was.

We started out with fried mushrooms. For the main entree, Kai had roasted hen, my wife had a filet, and I had buffalo and elk meatloaf.

For dessert, we had a chocolate tart that was the most delicious food I had on the entire vacation. It was scrumptious!

It was almost dark when we left the restaurant, but Kai wanted to walk around the small town to catch Pokemon. It was pitch dark by the time we got back to the hotel, but he had fun.

Next, we will spend the day exploring the National Park.

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