Thursday, March 05, 2009

In the course of today's drive, I made a discovery about myself. Robin had been driving for an hour on Highway 20 in western Texas. The landscape was virtually featureless. I thirsted for a cactus, a hill, a tree – anything more than knee high and preferably some colour other than yellow or greenish-brown.

We stopped alongside the road to eat lunch and change drivers. I sat in the captain's chair, just behind the cab. Robin said “Are you okay?” I wasn't, really. I sat there, chin on chest, leaning against the passenger seat, staring out the window. Now that we had stopped, I could see that the yellow grass beside the road was blowing in the wind. That comforted me. Still, I found it difficult even to raise my head. I tried to explain to Robin how I was feeling, but the words wouldn't come.

It occurred to me that I need edges, definition. Stranded in the desert – at least this desert – I might just sit down and die. The emptiness around me refused to stay outside. It crept into my mind and pressed downward. I suspect I would feel the same way if I were far out at sea, out of the sight of land. It looked as if, no matter how far we drove, we would never come to the end of the desolation.

It was my turn to drive, and I did, though I really just wanted to curl up in a ball. Soon, the landscape began to change. There was the occasional yucca to break up the monotony of the foreground, and in the distance there was what looked like an enormous escarpment. Glaciers? Here?

The sight of a genuine feature on the landscape gave me new hope, and I drove more eagerly than before. After another hour, Robin took over driving, and I was able to enjoy the change of scenery even more. We turned north on Hwy 285, then west on 652, which took us closer and closer to what turned out to be the Guadalupe Mountains. Not only were we heading for the mountains, we were heading for Carlsbad Caverns. Oh, bliss. When we came to Hwy 62/180, we turned north again and drove to the caverns. It was after three o'clock, so we had only enough time to do the abbreviated tour of the Big Room. Robin didn't want to do any more walking than that, anyway, so that was okay.

We took the elevator 750 feet down - or so said the Truly Obnoxious Elevator Operator - to the Big Room. I said I needed edges and definition, features on the landscape, didn't I? Well, if I have a problem with the vast desolation that is the Chihuahuan Desert, I can say with confidence that I have no trouble at all with being in a cave. We walked down a narrow corridor to an enormous cavern, the Big Room, where we were surrounded by huge stalagmites and stalactites. As soon as we walked into the Big Room, tears came to my eyes. While I stumbled along the dimly lit walkway, my mind was dancing and skipping. I saw a huge congregation of stone people who stand eternally in the Hall of Giants, waiting for the giants to speak - or perhaps, listening when they do. There is something called the Chinese Theatre, an area in which the stalagmites look like pagodas. In places, I seemed to look at forests stretching off into the distance. Pools of water looked like deep canyons, but really the water just reflects the cave's ceiling. When we had been walking for ten or fifteen minutes, a ranger came along and said we would have to take the shortcut to the exit, because they would soon be closing the cave. Then and there, I decided that I will be going back in tomorrow. If we had kept walking, we would have come to The Bottomless Pit. Who could resist checking out the Bottomless Pit? There are other activities available, all of them more strenuous than the Big Room self-tour, and I may get adventurous, but for sure, I'm going back to see The Bottomless Pit!

Robin dragged me out of the cavern, and we drove to the Carlsbad RV Park, about 15 miles north. We have real television here, so I'm watching "House" with half an eye while I type. I can hardly wait to go back to the caverns.


foetoe said...

Calsbad Caverns is one of the most wonderous of places. Too bad in order to see it, we have to let people in.

You didn't stay until dusk to watch the bats come out?

Debbie said...

I never really realized it until I read your words, but I am the same way! I need edges too. Boundaries. Something to define myself.

Sandra Leigh said...

Hi, foetoe! No, I thought about it, but we needed to make sure we had a place to sleep, so we left before sunset. Apparently, seeing the bats make their exit was how Mr. White(?) discovered the caverns.

Debbie, it's odd. I love the Sonoran Desert - but it has more contours than the Chihuauhan - at least the part we saw yesterday - and it also has cactus. I don't ask much.

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