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Waiting for the Bats

NOVEMBER 2, 2010


It was freezing when we woke up. The ground was alive with these strange bugs that made loud clicking noises and turned red in flight. We washed Annie's hair in the sinks and folded up the tent. My dad texted me that morning saying we should go to Carlsbad, New Mexico. We had no plans for the day so that sounded good to us! We had already started driving through a bit of desert-ish landscape but the drive we took that day was really where it all began to change. We started driving in to Mesa Country and everything was different. The only way I seem to be able to explain it is to use words like "naked" or "bald." Imagine the mountains of North Carolina, stripped of all their trees and just left as big bald mounds. That's the only way my mind could really process what I was seeing. I took a small stretch of highway 54 heading north. It was like being on a roller coaster. This tiny highway just curved through giant expanses of desert, steep hills up and straight down the other side. You could fly on these roads, no one else was out there and no speed limits were even posted. Thank god I had a full tank of gas beforehand because there was no where to stop. The whole day went a lot like this. Driving... and driving... and looking and not knowing what to think or how to fully appreciate the alien landscape around me. 


It only took us about 4 or so hours to get to Carlsbad. And honestly, once we got there we weren't sure what to do. We kept driving through state parks and signs pointed to caverns and canyons but we weren't sure which ones to stop at and so forth. Right before we got to the town of Carlsbad we saw a State Park Visitor Center. Bingo! A very helpful lady ranger at the desk recommended we rush over to  Carlsbad Caverns before they closed for the day and to make sure and stay around till 6 o'clock so we could see the bats. Whatever that meant. Ok!


Now it turns out that the Carlsbad Caverns are super famous. I think maybe they said they were the largest caverns visitors could still go down in to. Anyways, we took an elevator down in to the depth of the earth and were let out in to... well, a cave. A giant cave. I had been caving when I was around 14 with an outdoor school I was going to at the time so I had a bit of an idea what to expect down there.  But this cave was different in that it had been chosen out of all the others to be a national monument. It was a a cave at it's finest perfection. "The Big Room" which was the main part of the walking tour was enormous. I felt this very odd sense of... humanity down there. Even though I knew that no human society had ever lived down in the cave it seemed to create it's own sense of human history. The formations made by the water and by time took on shapes that resembled totems or statues made for worship. Little formations around the large ones looked like humans bent in prayer and solidified by time, similar to what I would assume a body covered in magma would look like. It gave me the creeps. I don't know if it is me or if it is in our instincts to personify inhuman material, but it is certainly where my brain went. 


After the cave tour we hung around the gift shop waiting for "the bats." We still weren't really sure what that meant but we were damn sure curious to find out. Around 5:45ish the loitering tourists began to migrate down a dirt trail. We followed. We found ourselves in an outdoor ampitheather of sorts which was built just above the mouth of the cave we had been in earlier. There were hundreds of what we discovered were called Cave Swallows diving in and out of the cave. The ranger who was answering questions from the crowd made a joke about the swallows being "the day shift." When they all returned to the cave is when the bats would come out. They took their time I tell you, I think even the park ranger was getting a little nervous that they'd decided not to show tonight. But... around seven o'clock... out they came. And I tell you I've never seen anything like it. There were THOUSANDS. They filled the sky. Tiny little bats swarming out and they made this high pitched chirping noise that became a sort of constant hum as more and more of them came out. We weren't allowed to take pictures of the bats because of some special "sonar" they had that would be effected by electronic waves. (we had been asked to turn off all cellphones, cameras, etc. before they showed up). But I have taken a picture from there online website so that you folk can get a better idea of what it was we were looking at. 


After the bats we considered trying to find a place to stay in Carlsbad but decided to keep going to Alamogordo. It was about two or three hours west. I was up for the drive and we were all about keeping momentum so off in to the night we went.... again...


I am actually struggling to remember this drive. I remember I wasn't very happy on it. It was very dark and I couldn't hardly see the road ahead of me. I guess perhaps I regretted leaving Carlsbad. I was tired and sick of driving not too long after we started out. The desert had disappeared as we'd started climbing in to higher altitude. It was cold out all of a sudden. We hadn't felt any trace of fall until that night. We were winding up a mountain, tall evergreens on either side. I needed gas, and coffee and a snack. We came up on a gas station and a small little town. We got out of the car, cold! It was the strangest thing, it was like a little ski town. There was a little strip of buildings that looked like the front of a movie set, as if there was nothing beyond the front doors. There was a motel, a bar, a closed coffee shop and a gas station. I got a big cup of coffee and a reeses to up my blood sugar. Then... as we wound back down the mountain we approached the biggest town we'd seen in forever. Lights of the city flickered bellow us as we drove down towards it. Alamogordo! And what a beautiful site it was. It's funny how fantastic civilization can look after a day of only natural beauty. We found a Walmart and even after my giant coffee I was sleepy enough to lean back my seat and fall in to a suprisingly restful slumber.

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