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.