Week 3 - Corpus Christi to El Paso; Carlsbad Caverns and El Paso
Tuesday 12 July 1994: We were rudely awakened at 6 am by a timid old
man knocking on our door. Luckily he was not persistent and went away.
Maybe we were on private land, but there was no indication of this. Of course, he
may have been in desperate need of help, or offering free lottery tickets, but we shall never know.
Still, we packed up quickly and left nonetheless, driving along an empty ranch
road which joined the main US 180 south west of Carlsbad. A little further
south was Whites City, turn-off for the world-famous
Carlsbad Caverns. The town itself is best not visited;
fake old-western buildings with lots of souvenir shops and caravan parks,
but a pretty, winding road led up into the hills to the cavern entrance.
A huge visitor center with every conceivable facility was full of hundreds
of people, many awaiting the regular guided tours around the caves.
We elected for the longer of the two unsupervised routes
(the 'Blue Loop Trail'), which was supposed to take three hours, but
even after frequent stops (for attempted photos), and despite the
best efforts of many slow-moving Americans to inhibit our progress,
it took only 1 hour 20 minutes.
The cave itself was undeniably spectacular,
with many amazing spaeleotherms (formations). It's a pity everywhere is so
commercialised, but I suppose there is no real alternative. The tour ended
at an underground cafe, subject of much debate over its location - this
sort of thing should be kept above ground I think. A lift returned us to
ground level 750 feet up (taking only 1 minute), and back to the midday
heat. Next we rejoined US 180, went past an impressive hilly area next to
Guadalupe Mountains National Park and had lunch at Salt Flat,
which was like a mini version of the Great Salt Lake Desert in Utah. The
temperature was 118 in the sun. After lunch the very straight road continued
through completely empty lands. We passed a sign saying
'No gas for 80 miles', calculating that we could just make it. Eighty
miles later we arrived at Cornudas, which was
'Closed on Tuesdays', according to a helpful sign. Luckily just a
few miles before this there was a jovial bar/motel with one petrol
pump, where we filled up (at $2 a gallon!).
Another hour of driving brought us back to El Paso. It was
strange as we approached the city to see the very gradual signs of
civilisation returning; first a few isolated houses then more gas stations
and building sites where new industrial sites were appearing, as the city
grew into the surrounding desert. Just the reverse of I-10 as we left El
Paso the previous week. On the approach road there is the world's largest
Harley Davidson dealer. We returned to the same RV site as before
("The Roadrunner"), and had dinner in the same Mexican restaurant