These giant cactuses are the iconic symbol of the American southwest. Not only are they majestic and stately, each saguaro is unique… kinda like a special snowflake. Most of the really nifty lookin’ ones are much older than me, since they don’t start developing appendages until around age 75.
Pictures speak louder than words, so I am dedicating the remainder of this post to showing off these Sonoran desert beauts. I have also named them for your enjoyment.
Complete darkness. My eyes fought to find something to focus on; my ears something to target. Thankfully the lady next to me inhaled deeply, leaving me grateful for the brief respite from the disorienting sensory paralysis.
I sat in an alcove with twelve other strangers, united by our collective experience of this outright blackout. After a couple of minutes, our guide began to talk about the delicate balance of preserving the cave while at the same time allowing visitors access to this underground wonder.
Before arriving at Carlsbad Caverns, I expected it to be like the other three caves I had visited thus far on my trip. Of course there would be eye-catching stalactites and stalagmites, and perhaps a couple of other cave features that would draw my attention. I wasn’t prepared for the sheer magnitude of this subterranean space, nor was I ready to be captivated by the diversity of speleothems (a fancy word for cave decorations).
The guided Lower Cave tour that I signed up for took me even further into a frontier that is just beginning to be understood. Though not as rigorous as my Wild Cave Tour in Mammoth Caves, I got my share of exercise descending/ascending ladders and traipsing across uneven ground.
In one underground pool, hundreds of feet below the surface, I witnessed a parasitic worm preparing to lay its eggs. The young larvae will use cave crickets as a host, eventually busting out of the gut like something from a sci-fi film. Gruesome? Yes, but fascinating all the same. You can watch a video here, but not before eating.
I also walking through history, witnessing the place where Amelia Earhart stood on her VIP tour years ago. I reveled in the fact that Carlsbad Caverns has been around for such a long time. I also said a silent prayer that humans will get their act together and work on preserving such marvelous masterpieces.
At the top, the bright sunlight made me squint and miss the soft light from my headlamp that highlighted cavern features. I’ll never be an underground dweller, but visiting every now and again is a pretty special treat.
Part of traveling in the Southwest means deserts – lots of ’em. I was expecting a typical desert hike when I set out on the Devil’s Hall trail at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. I was pleasantly surprised when I ended up scrambling through a shaded wash littered by large limestone boulders, the evidence of the mountain range’s continuous erosion.
A desert striped whipsnake startled me when I stopped to snap some pictures. True to it’s name, the reptile slinked away, whipping it’s body in a twerking-like motion. Lizards were a dime a dozen, some looking washed out as a result of sunbathing, and others bearing bright blue throats that pulsed rhythmically.
About 2 miles into my hike I reached the famed Hiker’s staircase. It appeared man-made, but due to my conversation with a ranger pre-trip, I knew it was actually the result of complex geological processes.
The Devil’s Hall was even more mind-boggling. A narrow corridor perfect for human passage, this ravine was surrounded by huge walls of thin-layered rock. No matter how many outdoor places I visit and no matter how many parks I check off my list, I’m continuously amazed. There is so much diversity and ingenuity in our natural world.
I rested in the shade of the Hall, enjoying the cool, dry breeze filtering through the shrubbery.
As I drove into Big Bend, the temperature gauge on my car read 92°. I expected oppressive heat that would cause perspiration to drip down my face within minutes. Tentatively, I opened the door to my Civic and felt a gentle breeze. Not too bad. I grabbed my day pack and set out to explore some of the desert flora armed with a self-guided pamphlet.
Big Bend has a myriad of cacti and desert succulents that are specially designed to withstand heat and lack of
water. They’re resilient and can be ridiculously beautiful, especially when in bloom. I marveled at the variety; the desert may sometimes get a bad rap as a desolate place, but everywhere I walked, I saw life.
Returning to my car, I realized that I wasn’t feeling the heat like I thought I would. It made exploring the outdoors on a searing day much more doable than some places in the Southeast I visited (here’s looking at you, Congaree).
Though it contains acres and acres of desert, Big Bend is also known for it’s iconic river, the Rio Grande, that forged a canyon many years ago. This river forms the border between Mexico and America. It also was a perfect place to find some shade during the heat of the day. Looking over my shoulder as I headed downstream, the scene looked like something you’d see from Jurassic Park. Large mountains, riparian habitats, and an array of green. In fact, Big Bend is known as an paleontologist’s paradise, full of a rich fossil history.
By the late afternoon I finally began to sweat. I took a couple more moments to gaze at the beauty surrounding me.