Sunday, December 02, 2007

Texas. Flat country. We traveled to Big Spring, Texas, on our way to the Dallas, Fort Worth area, with a winter storm filling the sky ahead of us. We took Route 176 the back way, a two lane straight highway through endless washes, cotton fields, oil rigs pumping right in the cotton fields, and cows wandering through sagebrush and grasslands, occasional signs saying EAT BEEF, the smell of oil surprising us, and the sunset behind us turning the sky red.

It was a good day for hiking into the bowels of the earth at Carlsbad Caverns. This national park (established in 1923) still allows anyone to take pictures of the fascinating formations, shields, staligmites, stalactites, pillars, walls of popcorn, draperies, and amazingly large caverns (see Hall of Giants above). We hiked about 800 feet down through the original entrance on a switchback trail, then along a trail throughout the Big Room the equivalent of 14 football fields or about 8 acres. Whew! Early visitors to the cave went down a ladder; in the 1920s, they climbed down wooden steps and then had to climb back up. Most visitors take an elevator 780 feet down and up. No matter how you arrive here, the views are dazzling.

A little information posted here and there helped us to understand whether native Americans knew about the cave or how they may have used it. Just above the natural entrance to the cave, a sign points out a large stone circle used for cooking, perhaps mescal. I found out online that archaologists estimate paleo Indians have been living in this area since 12,000 BCE, and that the Apache lived here as well. Pictographs have been found and dated some time in the Archaic period (6,000 BCE to 800 CE), and bits of sandals have been found at the bottom of the drop-off just past the entrance. Since caves are sacred to many native peoples, perhaps the cave was treated as an important site, regardless of whether it was explored as fully as we can today.

This morning the sunshine makes me bolt out of bed to an impossibly blue sky. Winter in Texas and the south. I wish you all a warm (if not sunny) week, though the USA Today map shows too much blue coming down from the north. Beth

Sources on the discovery of Carlsbad and the native American role there.

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