In March 2022, we were preparing for our long-awaited road trip out west. With our Class B campervan, purchased in the fall, we were to head west to New Mexico and Arizona. The goal was to visit the great National Parks of these states during our 2-week vacation and make it to Sedona, where we had heard about the epic must-go hikes.
After what was still a very hectic work week, we were finally able to leave on the morning of March 5 for our big trip. The pleasant winter in Florida put us in the mood to hit the road again, looking for adventures on the road and heading west for some good hiking. First, however, we had to load our Travato with all the necessities and food for the long trip. After all, we still had 2500 miles to go to get to Sedona, Arizona, which was our final destination.
Our journey took us first via I 75 to Tampa and then via Tallahassee to Panama City. There our first stop was the "Southern Grace Lavender Farm", which offered free RV accommodation through the Harvest-Host-Program. This program connects thousands of hosts across America who offer free RV accommodations and only require you to purchase a few of their products while staying with them.
Day 2 & 3:
Although the owner of the farm was very hospitable and gave us a short tour of the field to explain the lavender cultivation, we still had to leave very early the next day. With another stop in Texas near Houston, we continued our trip on the Interstate 10 with two exhausting travel days to reach our first highlight on the tour the "Carlsbad Cavern National Park".
The drive on the I 10 through Texas seemed to have no end. Finally, at the end of the day, we crossed the west Texas "Permian Oil Basin" via State Road 285. After hours of views over oil wells and sadly discovering the destruction through hydraulic fracking, we finally reached the KOA Campground in Carlsbad in the late evening. Freshly rested, we planned to visit the stalactite caves in Carlsbad early the next day.
After a good night's sleep and a good night's rest, we set off on Tuesday for Carlsbad Cavern, not too far from the campground. We needed about 30 minutes to the entrance of the National Park and from there another ten minutes uphill to the visitor center. Although the parking lot was already well filled we had no problems finding a suitable parking space with our 21 ft camper.
In the Visitor Center, we were given useful information about the cave and could get a good impression of the immense size of the stalactite caves. After a short wait, we got our entrance tickets to the cave at the reception. Luckily, our "America The Beautiful" pass from last year's trip was still valid and we were able to save the $20 per person entrance fee. Ready for the cave now we were faced with the choice of taking the elevator down directly to the "Great Room" of the cave or taking the slightly longer walk via the "Natural Entrance". We unanimously decided to take the 1.5-mile hike across the Natural Entrance which seemed more promising to us.
From the entrance, you follow the footsteps of the first explorers on a descent down switchbacks about 750 feet into the cave itself. On the way down, we passed through the various twilight zones as we progressed deeper and deeper into the cave. Each of the sections to be passed opened up new rooms with magnificent stalactite formations. Once illuminated by magical spotlights, another time hid in the darkness waiting to be discovered.
After the adventurous descent to the bottom of the cave, we finally reached the turnoff to the "Big Room", the real attraction of Carlsbad Cavern. And wow, the chamber of the cavern that opened up before us exceeded all expectations. In the Big Room, the Natural Entrance Trail ends and leads as a circuit through the different stone formations.
The rest of the tour of the "Big Room" was simply indescribable. Stalactites and stalagmites in every imaginable form were lined up and we could not get out of the amazement. We passed formations with names like Giant Dome, Fairyland, and Mirror Lake before arriving at an area known as Bottomless Pit. The Bottomless Pit is another 140 feet deep and is the deepest place in the cave. It is so deep that the bottom cannot be seen even with a flashlight.
With so many impressions, the time on the tour flew by. After finishing the hike through the "Great Room" and taking as many glimpses as possible we had to decide if we should climb up to the "Natural Entrance" or rather take the elevator to the Visitor Center. Nevertheless, we decided to take the less time-consuming elevator since we wanted to reach another stage of our journey today.
After a short ride up, we were able to exit the elevator and the surface had us again. Another short panoramic view to enjoy over the wide plain and we were on the way again. We still had two hours to drive down to El Paso, where we wanted to spend a night in a hotel after the exertions of the trip.