Photograph by Kelsey Rocha: Mouth of the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico on July 6, 2015.
I am afraid of the dark. This fear is exacerbated when it’s dark in small dark places. It should stand to reason that going into a dark underground cave that bats fly out of every night should definitely not be on my agenda. Yet, there I was standing at the mouth of the Carlsbad Caverns.
The big room at the bottom of the caverns can be reached by two routes: by elevator or by taking the half-hour walking path. The descent is about 1000 feet and there is a combined 30 miles of passageways to explore. I recommend reading the Things to Know Before your Visit section of the website. Although, it neglects to tell you that the walk is very steep and closed-toe shoes will greatly play to your advantage if you choose the walking path.
We chose the walking path and took the self-guided tour, but for people with more time there are a number of guided tours available. It was very hot outside, nearly 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and the colossal hole leading to the caverns appeared ominous in stark contrast to the blue sky and billowing white clouds.
The caves are home to hundreds of thousands of bats. The largest represented species is the Brazilian Free-tailed Bat and the animals fly directly out of the mouth of the cave nearly every night. The same cave I was about to enter.
My understanding of the caverns prior to my visit was that they “were really cool.” so as I stood poised at the opening of the cave, I felt uneasy. I could tell the ground was wet and I could see the steep path cutting in jagged zig-zags disappearing into the dark pit before me.
A piece of me didn’t want to go, but something urged me to go. I had to know if all those people who had told me about the caves were right. I had to see if for myself.
Further down the path, the large speleothems extending from the cave floor and the ceiling are lit by dim lights. The formations are the remnants of a reef complex from an inland sea. The limestone that was once there was cut away and dissolved by a wash of sulfuric acid and over the course of millions of years, the landscape of the caverns changed and the sulfuric acid drained replaced by mineral water that formed the glistening stalagmites and stalactites you can see today.
Inside the big room, the glowing rock formations glow white and remind me of the icicles that would hang from my room at Christmas time in Colorado. It is a place endlessly caught in a petrified winter. The beautiful slopes of the rocks cut abruptly into coral formations and it’s like spelunking without the water. There are bottomless pits and blackened ceilings. The complete circuit takes and hour and a half.
The tunnels are (just as everyone said) absolutely incredible. Despite that, I am still afraid. Many people who know me see me as fearless, but that isn’t true. I believe in confronting the things that scare me, but also remembering why they scare me.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing everyday that scares you.” She’s right. Travel is something that should scare you. If you aren’t scared, you’re probably being a little naive. Fear is healthy, but letting that fear govern your life is not. I challenge each of you, to do something (not matter how seemingly small or trivial) to do that one thing each day that scares you. Ask someone on a date. Check out the new Ethiopian restaurant around the corner. Apply for a new job. Take a walk in the dark.