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2016 Cross-Country Road Trip Part 3; Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and the desolate expanse of US 180/62

After entering southeast New Mexico I passed through the cities of Hobbs and Carlsbad on US 180/62 westbound on New Mexico State Route 7 to Whites City where I reached the Guadalupe Range.  My next stop was at the end of NM 7 at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.


Carlsbad Caverns actually has an onsite kennel to drop animals off at.  After dropping my dog off I made my way through the visitor center to the natural entrance of the caverns.





Carlsbad Caverns is a series of limestone caverns underneath the Guadalupe Range.  The primary attraction is the Carlsbad Cavern which one of 119 caverns located at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  Carlsbad Cavern contains the fifth largest cave chamber in the United States which is known as the "Big Room."  Carlsbad Cavern the surrounding caverns are known for their calcite formations which were formed when there was a high ground water table in the Guadalupe Range.

Carlsbad Caverns National Monument was created in 1923 but it was later bumped up to National Park status in 1930.  Carlsbad Cavern does have a 750 foot elevator which descends from the visitor center that opened in 1932.  However, the elevator was down and I had no intention of using it anyways given the hiking trail was something I familiar with from a previous visit in 2012.  I quickly made my way through the switchbacks into Carlsbad Cavern.





Upon the descent from the switchbacks the depth of Carlsbad Cavern is obvious as it stretches downward into the darkness.  Carlsbad Cavern is very well lit and the descending trail is paved all the way to the bottom.





Looking back upwards at the cave entrance the last glimpse of sunlight can be seen.



The trail downwards is fairly easy.   I want to say it took me only about 40 minutes to get to the bottom even stopping to get photos of the calcite formations.













The terrain of the Big Room is obvious due to the cavern terrain flattening out.






The Big Room has walking paths around the perimeter of the room which displays some of the best calcite formations.






I particularly liked the limestone pools given they had perfectly clear water.




After spending about four hours down in Carlsbad Cavern I made my ascent and picked up my dog before heading back to US 180/62.  US 180/62 dips back into Texas near the boundary for Guadalupe Mountains National Park.







Guadalupe Mountains National Park consists of much of the Guadalupe Range which isn't part of Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  The Guadalupe Range stretches 65 from western Texas into southeast New Mexico.  The Guadalupe Range is the highest mountains in Texas with the highest peak being Guadalupe Peak at 8,751.  Back in 2012 I hiked Guadalupe Peak but the weather was looking really bad over the range.  I had planned on stopping to walk to the ruins of the Butterfield Stage Station but I passed it up due to the possibility of a snow shower.  I made my way westward to lower elevations on US 180/62 but stopped to see the overlook for the 8,045 foot El Captain.







US 180/62 between Whites City in New Mexico westward to El Paso is one of the most desolate highways in the Continental United States with an approximately 120 mile stretch no services.  West of the junction with TX 54 along US 180/62 in Hudspeth County is the ruins of the community of Salt Flat.  Salt Flat was settled in the 1920s to service the new highway between El Paso and Carlsbad.  US 62 was extended to El Paso in 1932 and US 180 was added by 1944.  Salt Flat apparently had as many as 50 residents at one point but all that remains today is crumbling buildings that used to service travelers.




Salt Flat is named after a nearby dry lake which is at the foot the Guadalupe Range.  There is a series of gypsum sand dunes on the northeast side of the Salt Flat that are within the boundary of Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  The Salt Flats were the location of the 1877-78 San Elizario Salt War which claimed over 25 lives.





After crossing the barren wastes of US 180/62 I stopped for gas in El Paso and took the recently completed TX 375 to I-10 near the New Mexico State Line.



Heading west on I-10 westbound I reentered New Mexico.  I pulled off of I-10 onto the I-10 Business Loop in Las Cruces for the night.








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