Underground Waterfall

Today was the 84th anniversary of the day Rudy Falls was discovered, hence 84 candles.

Today was the 84th anniversary of the day Rudy Falls was discovered, hence 84 candles.

A theme of this road trip is caving with such wonders as Carlsbad and Kerchner caverns on the agenda. So if we drive by another highly rated cave then we’re easily swayed. In many ways this accidentally discovered cave is standard faire. What sets it apart is the longest, deepest waterfall available for touring. At 125 feet in length, Ruby Falls stands out and takes your breath away.

Besides, I wanted an excuse to show Kelsey my favorite Tennissee town: Chattanooga.

Choo choo!
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Caverns at Carlsbad, Again

Guadalupe Mountains

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is next door to Carlsbad Caverns. I’ve hiked there before and wanted to hike there again but time did not allow it. Instead, I visited with Rangers and planned a future trip which will include a hike to the summit, Texas’ highest point.

Want to have one of the world’s great caves to yourself? Visit at 8:30 AM on a Sunday and it’s yours. While I was not the first to arrive at Carlsbad Caverns National Monument, I was the first to descend by foot.

The Natural Entrance Trail is 1.5 miles long and takes you 750 feet below ground. It’s a walk I’ve done before and was glad to do it again. To experience the transition from a sunny day through the twilight zone into total darkness is memorable. Doing it alone makes it almost spiritual.

This visit I was not going to explore the bottom as I usually do. I already have hundreds of pictures from this area and, while I LOVE the freedom to roam provided at this park, I wanted to do something different. I wanted to see a cavern I hadn’t seen before. I wanted a tour of a restricted area.  Continue reading

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A Look Back: Cliff Dwellings in Nowhere

Cliff Dwelling

Nature created caves high in the cliffs. Man found access and some how built structures within caves and called them home. To my eyes these were amazing achievements in hot and hostile environs.

Something about the Alhambra made me reflect on other ancient dwellings. 

Earlier in 2010 I spent a week running around New Mexico. Why? Easy, I was totally ignorant about the State: its history, its people, its geography. Spending time driving around within its borders I learned a lot. One lesson was that many different indigenous people have called home the territory we now refer to as New Mexico. These people left behind evidence that they once occupied the area: their dwellings.

The early peoples lived in many dwelling types: underground, above ground in  structures, etc. However, the most interesting to me were their dwellings in cliffs. Not just a rare exception, cliff dwellings can be found throughout the region. Most were occupied several hundred years before the Alhambra was established but, like the great structures of Granada, these structures impress you and cause you to wonder. 

Check out the post covering the Gila Cliff Dwellings

Or, if you’re interested in the bigger picture then see my New Mexico trip.

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Caving as Performance Art

Caving as Performance Art

No, this has nothing to do with caving. It’s the center of Tombstone, AZ the symbol of the general lawlessness of the old west and the site of the O.K. Corral. Wow, they sure do sell their history well!

I’ve been in many caves and I have my favorites. Luray and Carlsbad Caverns were alone at the top of the list until today. Kartchner Caverns was revealed to the world in 1999 after over a decade of secretive development. Never before have I been in a cave so pristine, so well preserved, so artistically presented. The finale is a light show of a feature called Kubli Khan. It was beautiful and moving and extremely well done. Kartchner really rocks! Continue reading

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From 750’ Underground to 9,500’ Above

Underground to Over

When last I visited the International Space History Museum it was raining. Today was sunny. There was no way I wasn’t going back to take pictures of their outdoor exhibit: John P. Stapp Air and Space Park.

As a photographer, I’ve found no better cave than Carlsbad Caverns to visit and shoot. Its huge expanse of beautifully lit formations sets the stage. However, what really sets it apart is the freedom the National Park Service gives you to roam at your own pace, to set-up tripods and to take pictures. I’ve now visited four times and I most certainly plan to return. A gallery of pictures is forthcoming … but not today, I’ve got a road trip to continue!

A snow storm hit New Mexico when last I visited. This of course didn’t affect Carlsbad Caverns which lies 750 feet underground but it sure affected the National Solar Observatory at 9,500 feet in elevation! Sunspot, as its known, is an observatory dedicated to studying the sun with its many telescopes. At this elevation, at this latitude, with this weather it’s an ideal spot to study the sun. Here are some of the telescopes to be seen.

Underground to Over

National Solar Observatory

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The Loneliest Road in America

Lehman Caves

At 13,063 feet, Wheeler Peak is the tallest mountain in Nevada. While the sign is there to warn oncoming traffic at a “T” intersection, I found it comical to assume it was an expression of awe at the scale of the mountain.

Loneliest Road in America

Lincoln Highway

Everyone knows about the Rockies and the Colorado Plateau and everyone knows about the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges but what about the land in between? The region in between is called the Great Basin and is occupied largely by the State of Nevada. Filled with north-south mountain ranges separated by wide valleys (as seen above), what little water falls in this region stays in the region hence the name “basin”. It’s across this ripply arid land that I drove today. Continue reading

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From Smokey Bear to Billy the Kid

Smokey Bear to Billy the Kid

My favorite place to hang out 750 feet below ground is at Carlsbad Caverns. It’s varied, it’s colorful, and it’s vast ... fifth largest in the world. I’ve now been to four of the five largest cave networks in the world.

Before we get to Smokey and Billy, browse a few shots from Carlsbad Caverns. Click to advance pictures.

Yesterday I visited Smokey’s grave and today I spent time at Billy the Kid’s.

But wait, Billy’s grave is the end of the story which spans from 1864 to 1881. Continue reading

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Chichen Itza, not Chicken Pizza

Chichen Itza

I thought it was only culturally insensitive American’s who call this holy Mayan site “Chicken Pizza”. I was wrong. The tour guide called it that throughout our trip. What a sad day!

Recognize this structure? It’s one of the Seven Wonders of the World; it’s the Pyramid of Kukulcan at Chichen Itza in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. The math and astronomy and symbolism which make it a “wonder” are extensive. An overly long-winded tour guide laid it all out in detail. Information overload! All I can recite back is my impression: “Wow!”

Suffice to say, Chichen Itza once had over 400 structures and was the principal city of the Mayan civilization. It was the ceremonial heart of these people and was populated with religious leaders. Famous for so many things from its observatory, its pyramid, its ballcourt, and its war temple to its sacred well, its blood sacrifice, and its scale.

Chichen Itza

Only seven percent has been restored but it’s enough to blow you away. They’re discovering new things all the time and we saw excavation of an entirely new level of the pyramid. Our only disappointment was how limited access was to the structures. My expectations of full access were set in 1984 when last I visited. Obviously much had changed. Continue reading

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Crater Lake with Birds and Caves

Crater Lake

Birds in such abundance that I could scarcely believe it. Across the refuge the vegetation density varied by design and resulted in different clusterings of birds. So many birds; so many types!

Crater Lake takes my breath away. I’ve been to many places and this one is in the top tier of picturesque settings if it’s not closed due to weather. I’ve been up the mountain four times: twice I got to the lodge only, twice I’ve made it along the west rim, never have I driven the full perimeter. Even in the worst of situations I’ve seen been stunned but what I’ve seen. Enjoy these pictures!  Continue reading

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South Dakota National Parks

Rushmore

This profile view of George Washington is one I hadn’t seen before and which under these lighting conditions looks quite good. Pat on the back complete. I chose it for its distinction.

Mt. Rushmore is the most notable destinations. Vaguely I knew of Badlands but I’d not even heard of either Wind Cave or Jewel Cave. Not surprisingly, since they’re all National Parks, I found them really worthwhile visits.

This set of parks is the primary reason I traveled so far north on my way to Los Angeles. Mt. Rushmore was my prime attraction. Its not that I reeeeeally wanted to see four Presidents’ heads carved in the side of a mountain. Superficially Mt. Rushmore sounds kind of goofy, kind of like an attention-getting stunt. Of course I was wrong. It’s a National Park for a reason!

RushmoreThis site pays homage to some of the U.S.’s greatest leaders. It’s sedate and respectful and the carvings are huge! I learned about the site’s construction and of the many difficult challenges they had to overcome during construction. Distinctive subtleties were interesting such as how the create a “glint in the eye” effect (by using pillar protrusions in each pupil). Plaques on display along the walking trail explain the history and the significant contributions of the four   Presidents. I didn’t think that Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt (Teddy) and Lincoln all had big heads … but now I know better! See pictures below.  Continue reading

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