Once upon a time, a large, loud family departed on a long journey to the west. It was the best of vacations. It was the worst of vacations. Not really. It was good.
But, it did begin. The car was packed. The kids were pumped. The parents were excited and exhausted. Isn’t the prep of vacation always the most tiring? We loaded, and we loaded, and we loaded. The cooler was in the front. With everybody buckled, pillows in hand, we departed. Carlsbad Caverns or Bust!
Matt drove until San Antonio where a much-needed supper break was taken. We ate at a lovely Thai restaurant that was pretty authentic. The kids ate, ran around the table, went to the restroom, and then we left. Back on the road! Settled down for the night, I fidgeted with my pillow to get a nap before my driving shift. I sleep pretty well in cars.
Almost out of the city, cries for the potty erupted. It’s late now. We look around for any place to stop, and all we see is a large movie theater. Now, at this point, the girls are all in pajamas except the oldest. Matt pulls into the parking lot, and we file out. Carrying the little ones, we whisk into the theater full of young movie-goers. Most of them turn to stare at our weird group. We quickly use the facilities and leave, giggling on the way out.
We drive and drive and drive. I take the late shift. We stop to switch drivers at Mosquito Lake. My legs are covering with mosquitoes as I run around to the driver’s side. “I guess I know why it’s named that,” I say, oh so witty. I listen to my I-pod as I drive. Everyone else is sleeping. I love the quiet. I listen to praise music. I pray. I listen to ’80s music. I laugh. Finally, I see the sky turn bluish, and I know that sun is going to peek up soon. We cross into New Mexico! Hurray! Kids are stirring, and the sun begins to shine.
We pull into Carlsbad and find the McDonald’s. It is the only thing open. Two cars of us are here early. We try to sleep a bit, and then finally go into the restaurant. The playground looks fun except for the “Closed” sign in front of it. We ask why with a bunch of wiggly children behind us, and they say it doesn’t open until 9am. Huh?
There are bar stools at this McD’s, and our little ones keep falling off of them. After two head injuries, we decide we are finished with this fast-food place with weird rules. I’ve never seen one of my brother-in-laws angry until this moment. He told them in plain words that we needed that playground open. They still wouldn’t open the playground even after our noise, goose-eggs, and complaining to the manager. We were still waiting on our other family to arrive so we needed a place to stretch little and big legs.
We drove until we found a park. It was the coolest park playground I have ever seen. It was built like an old fort, and there were so many places to play. It is called “Playground on the Pecos.” We played there until our other family arrived in Carlsbad, and then we headed to the Caverns.
Carlsbad Caverns finally appears on the last of many twists, turns, and bends! We got there early, and we were glad they opened at 8am. The kids file out. Although the van is not yet smelling like eau de long trip, we are all so happy to be out of the car. We bought our tickets, and we rented these cool “listen as you tour” things. We began the long descend into the caverns. It is a slow descent so you can see daylight for a while. The coolness of the below feels welcome as you walk. We marveled at the beginning of the cavern.
We went deeper and deeper. The stalactites, stalagmites, and columns became more complex, larger, and more beautiful. The lighting in places was perfect to see the different formations. The kids were loving the caverns. I think each one asked me at some point if they could veer off the path and touch something. This is a big NO-NO there unless you are on a special tour, and you have to be over 3 to be on special tours. We saw a special tour group, and it looked like a fun experience. They had headlights on and they were allowed to crawl through other mini-caves and such. It was pretty dark in places, and at one point we had to put on our jackets because of the change in temperature. I was so surprised to experience how far down the caverns went. We walked for hours. Thankfully, there is an underground rest area that has sandwiches and drinks. I was glad because all the stalactites were starting to look the same to me while hungry. We were happy to sit down at the tables provided, and we enjoyed a quick-lunch deep below the Earth’s surface.
After lunch we wound our way back through the caverns still amazed by the intricacies of the formations, the piles of bat poop (guano), and the water trickles found in weird places. When we reached the sunlight (which was coming through the windows of the gift shop), we were spent. We allowed the girls to each pick a souvenir from the shop, and then we headed to Alamogordo where we were camping for the night. We decided to make this one of our eating out nights, and our group of six cars unloaded and headed into a local restaurant. I imagined the restaurant staff moaning and groaning as they saw our crew coming in. Here we come!
To be continued…