On the way from El Paso to the Carlsbad Caverns is the amazing Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
The intensely isolated Guadalupe Mountains National Park has stunning rocky cliffs and untouched streams. It’s bordered by an empty freeway with vertiginous curves and no speed limits. A few miles from the freeway, the crunching sound of the park’s pebbled-lined trails are the only alternative to an otherwise complete silence.
Deer, mountain lions and snakes wander around this vast, untamed landscape. Wildflowers bloom under cacti. A tepid sun sinks beneath the huge cliff faces, leaving me in the dusk with all that is living and not human. I see a deer grazing by the side of the trail and almost jump out of my skin. I shudder at what my reaction to a more sinister creature might be and decide to get out while I still can.
I’ve passed Guadalupe Mountains National Park on my way to Carlsbad. I’m not there to see the town, a forlorn collection of motels and big box stores on the edge of civilization. Instead, beneath the surrounding desert is the stunning Carlsbad Caverns National Park which has made the town famous.
Inside the Carlsbad Caverns is a primordial, cleansing darkness. It’s the mirror image of the purifying sunlight of Edward Hopper’s pictures. Steady drips of water over unfathomable periods have created vast underground rivers. Along their banks rise cathedrals of intricately terraced rock, monuments to the power of time. Throngs of bats resting deep inside the labyrinth of chambers and the occasional incandescent worm are the only reminders of the life which swarms outside.
The best way to see Carlsbad Caverns is on a pre-booked ranger-guided tour. This way you get to see the caverns in a small group, with minimal light. It’s an awe-inspiring experience. You also get to explore other parts of the national park above ground which you otherwise wouldn’t think to go to. Make sure to bring your own batteries for the flashlights they provide.
Have you been to Guadalupe Mountains or Carlsbad Caverns National Parks? What was your favourite part?