By 1am we settled into our hotel room. Gradually at first, but with gaining intensity came the snoring. What started as a few snorts grew into the gurgles and gasps of Darth Vader snorkeling. My eyes wide open and bloodshot, I glanced over at Lauren who was sound asleep. From the bed next to us one would assume Ben was “Gitmo style” waterboarding a chainsaw. Add to this the rhythmic hum of semi-truck tires (no offense El Paso), but at sunrise I was ready to go.
Arriving at Carlsbad Caverns, as feared, our scheduled wild cave tour was canceled due to an issue with the elevators. Why would you need an elevator for a “Wild Cave Tour”? Hiking into the cave on a winding series of switchbacks, the cold humid air of this subterranean world engulfed us. The glow of natural light had faded. With each breath, rose a puff of steam, I an asthmatic; huffed and puffed like “the little train that smoked two packs of cigarettes a day”.
The tiny splash of countless water droplets impacting pools and formations echoed like rain upon a metal roof. On its journey from the surface, each drop drawn by gravity, had slowly percolated through over 700 feet of limestone and granite. Upon its journey, it had taken trace elements of rock. Though no more than the equivalency of billions/ trillions of water spots giant formations formed. A process orchestrated my random variables created geometric patterns which seem impossible. Other times formations take on the semblance of common items, resulting in names such as “Cave Bacon”, “Soda Straws,” etc.. No matter the names or titles we give them, endless “fields” of growing, morphing, living rock extends through out this expansive cave network.
Paths surrounded by hand rails and warning signs protect both visitors and ecosystem. Toward the back of a cavern, we met a team of lighting engineers testing and maintaining an extensive network of hidden cables, controls, and lamps. In jest, I asked when the “Pink Floyd” lazer light show started? To which Ben replied, why cheapen such an amazing place? Ben tolerates the real me, no need for niceties, fancy words, or explanations. Bro, we are surrounded by artificial lighting. There’s a gift shop/ snack bar 780 feet underground peddling junk made in China, and they installed an elevator. A lazer light show or “rock” concert with pyrotechnics is the next step.
Our parks systems are standing at a critical cross roads. In one hand we want preservation, ecology, and nature. Yet in the other hand these places are our best means of informing and educating. Watching a documentary on deforestation pales in comparison to standing at the edge of a majestic forest that ends at the parks boundaries. You can hike towards a fence surrounded by Bison, knowing they once roamed wild.
Experience is everything. Yet who wants an uncomfortable, boring, experience? Without some comforts and some showmanship, no one will come. As such, no one will learn. Why not leave our parks alone and leave them as nature intended them to be? It’s a fine balance between preservation, public use, education, and entertainment. I agree with Ben, we must be careful not to “CHEAPEN” these wonderful places.