See the previous entry for part 1. Continuing...
We woke up early at Rio Penasco, Katie's tent and my sleeping bag (I had slept under the stars) so covered in dew we might as well have slept under a sprinkler system. But we stuffed the wet items into the trunk anyway and headed to the campground office to see about getting some money back.
No one was in. There were hummingbirds everywhere. I watched them as Katie scribbled a note describing our situation to the owners and asked for any excess fee to be sent to me. She signed it with my name. (I would have written it, but my handwriting is atrocious, especially when my hands are cold.) I stuffed it in the payment drop box. Something sticky touched my hand.
We were happy to move on, and soon drove out of the forest into a less tropically humid environment. It became dryer and hotter as we headed down past Artesia and Carlsbad, then up the long road through Carlsbad National Park, with yucca and cacti lining the road.
We paid the $6 each for the self-guided tour of the caverns and headed out to the natural entrance. Apparently, some of the population touring the caverns is unsuited for this hike, prompting the sign below:
And here's the trail in:
I took a bunch of pictures in the cavern, balancing my camera on the railings to try to get sharp photos in the darkness, but the stabilization wasn't quite enough as most of the shots came out blurry. This one, however, was sharp:
This is the doll's theater, which is a cavern some 300 feet high.
Actually, it's more like 4 feet high. But you can't tell from the photo, can you?
This sign was a favorite of mine. It put the stamp of approval on my unkempt camperness.
It took a couple hours to go through the caverns, but by the end, I saw all the speleothems I wanted to see. I don't know what it is about caves; I always expect to enjoy them more than I do. But there I was, thinking, "Another stalactite, boy." My favorite aspects are the exploration aspect and the peace and quiet and dark, but those aren't easy to come across in caves frequented by the public.
After we finished up there, we drove north, back through congested Carlsbad, north to Roswell, where we were certain we would find a cheesy alien-themed diner to eat at. However, the main street of Roswell does not live up to the imagination. It could have been anywhere. It's true that most of the businesses downtown--from lawyers' offices to hair salons--had random alien cutouts and decals in their windows, but cheesy alien-themed diners were sadly lacking. Instead, we visited an antique shop, where I picked up an antique brass key that I later made into a necklace.
We headed for Oasis State Park outside of Portales. The park was a small oasis around a man-made pond stocked with fish, one of only a few such places in that dry country. It would be our last night in the southwest. Figuring it was our last chance to get good Mexican food, we picked a Mexican joint and ordered supper. My food was very similar to Taco Bell fare in presentation and quality, and Katie's might have been the same. I don't know; we never discussed the meal. We ate without talking about it and left without talking about it. It was like some tragedy too immediate and raw to be spoken of.
When we pulled off the highway for the state park, we finally rolled down our windows, and were greeted with a familar aroma. Katie identified it as the gentle smell of cow dung. I said it was more like an aggressive smell. Like it physically grabbed you and forced itself into your nostrils. There were some fields and trees, but nothing to explain this sign once we reached the park gates:
This stymied me, until I turned and saw the other sign:
Pond closed! Whoever heard of a pond being closed?
We set up at a campsite that was nice and quiet but found that the whole park was (perhaps unsurprisingly) swarming with flies. I mean the kind of flies that lay their eggs on cow dung. And so I set up my tent for that night. We took a brief bike ride and I had a shower. I walked back to the site in the dark to find Katie reading under a tree taken over by full-throated cicadas. I set up the stove and we had terrible s'mores with withered, stale marshmallows, two of our remaining beers, and melty chocolate that had to be scooped out of the wrapper with a knife. And then we leaned back against the picnic table and talked for a long time. I don't remember about what. It was probably something dorky.
Sometime in the night it started to rain. I felt the fine spray on my face from drops hitting the mesh of my tent. I hadn't put the fly on. I got up and stumbled to the car and dragged it out of the trunk, and then stood there staring for a while, hoping the rain would stop. By the time Katie had put her fly on a couple minutes later, the rain did stop, so I dropped mine on the ground, stopped staring and went back to sleep.