7am Sunday morning, 4 miles North of Marfa Texas.

Every single time we leave our current location, there’s a feeling of concern that we won’t be able to find a spot that’s as safe, convenient and comfortable as where we’re at. Especially last night as we were sitting in the Carlsbad Caverns parking lot at 5:30pm, a half hour after the visitor center closed and the sun was fully settled below the horizon for the night- and we had no destination planned. Carlsbad was 22 miles behind us, and we knew we’d be heading South into Texas, so we were reluctant to go back North since we knew we’d have to throw away about 50 miles for that convenience (translates to $30 in fuel for the bus, + the van fuel, and time and…). Friday night we had stayed close to the Caverns, on BLM land in the middle of nowhere**- which was more attractive that venturing into new territory, in the dark with the bus, pulling the van. [right turns in a city while pulling the van are asking for trouble] Knowing that we wouldn’t be doing anything else here tomorrow, and we still had several good hours of potential driving time to get closer to… MARFA, Tx we decided- so we programmed TomTom, pulled out the trucker map and started South. We stopped after about 8 miles after making this decision once we were out of the park boundaries and made dinner, hooked up the van and began.

**’In the middle of nowhere’ means that we were 5 miles from the closest building, adjacent to a secondary highway (1/4 mile), parked on an oil well access road. Lady knocks at the door at 10am with her Sienna mini van parked outside to share some religious materials. She and other Witnesses were reaching out to the rural folks, and ‘people like us’ that were away from the city.

I was so surprised at the arrival of a church visitor, that I couldn't snap a photo until she was leaving us, back into the silence in the middle of nowhere on Saturday morning.

Friday morning at the Carlsbad Community Center lot- Pecos River in the background.

Carlsbad treated us well. WM (I’m going to refer to WalMart as ‘WM’ for the rest of this blog since we talk about it so much, take note) provided an easy safe stop for us when we arrived after the UFO incident, but they’re not much fun during the day. We opted to seek another day camping spot and found a real gem at the community center along the banks of the Pecos River. Big community playground, skate park and well lit parking lot. As with many places you visit today, there are signs warning of video monitoring- here they mean it. Kelly and kids were startled by the loudspeaker booming to life with a lady warning that she would “LOCK THE SKATE PARK UP for the night” if everyone didn’t get their helmets on right NOW. They complied, but she reminded them a few more times into the evening. Until the last car left the lot that night, I never knew if ‘they’ were watching us or not. We decided to stay at this lot for the night. It’s hard to pass on a spot that is: adjacent to a playground, has trash receptacles within 150’, is out of the way or heavy traffic and is not marked against overnight parking. In addition, the sewer dump is .4 miles away, and the free drinking water is .8 miles down the road. We’re finding that many cities offer a sewer dump at their wastewater facility for free, but generally do not offer drinking water. Our best bet so far for drinking water is a gas station- who generally has a new clerk working that hears “Do you mind if we use your water faucet outside to get some water for our RV?”, and replies “Uh, sure, no problem”. Fortunately they usually know if it’s a drinking water quality connection (city tap water).

I know I’m going to get dinged for going off on all of these tangents, but bear with me. After holding over on Friday to catch up some school and get our act together for the Caverns we set out Saturday morning for what I have always thought was just a tourist-trap-sort-of-cave-deal. As a result of our visit to the Carlsbad Caverns south of Carlsbad, New Mexico- we will be adding a list to our blog of places you must visit during your lifetime.

We're here during the winter, so we won't see hundreds of thousands of bats emerging from this cave tonight.
In less than an hour, we'll be standing 800 feet below where our feet are in this shot.

This national treasure is beyond description. To see great images of the interior of the Caverns, visit their website, or Google images- we just can’t capture the sights or emotional impact of this world wonder on a blog. To think that I have discounted Carlsbad as a roadside attraction is irresponsible. Ethan was particularly reflective of the size and opportunity of this place as he snapped a few dozen photos on his iTouch (I haven’t seen him take any photos to date). On Friday, Ethan, Trevor and I signed up for the lower cave tour, which sent us in behind a park ranger through tunnels, small holes, ladder chutes and across makeshift bridges to explore a cave system 90 feet below the main caverns.

Part of the Lower Cave tour puts you in a tight spot or two.

To get to the lower cave, you must climb..... lower (90' or so) on a series of steel ladders.

With one in front and one behind me, I was safe from anything that goes bump in the night. The best part was when we all (12 on the tour) of us doused our lights and didn't speak for a minute. Absolutely quiet.

It was an adventurous perspective, but didn’t provide the WOW of the standard self-guided tour of the main caverns. From the visitor center, a short walk brings you to the natural entrance, which is in effect, a grandiose hole that drops into the earth. From the top, you cannot see the bottom, prevented by the steep edges and the failure of your own eyes to see beyond the daylight to the base. A hard surface hiking trail winds back and forth thirty times or more as it gently allows you to experience this wondrous place. I’ve never known the difference between a cave and cavern. When we were all talking about it afterwards, Anya defined a cave as in a mountain, and a cavern is underground. That’s about what I would have said, but he ranger told us that they were interchangeable. After today, I don’t think I’ll use the term cavern to describe anything else, that this great place. A Cavern is the largest underground room you’ll ever see- 750 feet below the surface of the earth. It is sprinkled with crystal clear water condensing and evaporating to move, but never running in a stream or river. It is expertly decorated with mineral formations that laugh at what you thought was a big stalactite or stalagmite, that appear to be the result of a crazy baker that lifted the wire beater on high speed while mixing cake icing. It is a 3 mile walking tour that feels like 20, that you enjoy every step of. It is a place that with good timing, you could spend several hours in with a special person or people and feel like you’re on a faraway planet, another world.

You can't see Anya well, but her shape gives you an idea of perspective. This is small potatoes. The largest vertical span was over 300' ! The formations were larger than dump trucks.

This is merely to prove that we were inside. Our photographic equipment was inadequate to capture what we experienced. The stainless steel rail ran along every inch of the path, jutting out or bowing in to contour every natural rock and curve. Much of the path is accessible by wheelchair.

Other visitors faces become unknown atmospheric conditions that you don’t even notice after a while thanks to the darkness and constant introduction of something new and bigger and more spectacular and more beautiful and cooler and … It is awesome. If you can get here with your kids, do it. We should all see this place at least once in our lives.

After our trek inside, ascending on the 750’ elevator we picked up our magnet and postcard and headed for home (in the parking lot, ahhhhh.) As we got closer to the bus parked toward the end of the parking lot, a man approached us, followed closely by a couple of women and he asked directly, “Is this yours” pointing to the bus. It didn’t look like it had rolled into anything, so I said it was. He then asked if he could show them (the ladies) the inside? It still makes me chuckle at how direct he was, and how much I appreciate this kind of person. Direct, no messing around kind of questions. Since we had a clean up this morning before departing BLM land, I said ‘sure’. They were very chatty, very curious about what was inside and suddenly there were 5 or 6 people headed inside.

New acquaintances at the Caverns parking lot. Meila asked me to point out that SHE is inthe drivers seat.

They were all so pleasant and kind, and curious –and we were happy to have them in. Trevor had stayed behind for the day, having been fighting a headache since last night- and I could hear him rustle very slightly as we entered (his shade was drawn) and passed his bunk. He must have seen us coming because he was well hidden from this tour group. One of the ladies was visiting from India, her relatives were from Texas and New Mexico. They hadn’t been inside a bus before, and this was their chance. The gentleman sounded like I did just months ago as I would spot and chat with anyone I could find about buses- he said that his dream would be to load the family up and travel for a period of time. I was instantly empathetic to his situation- how do you make it happen? (recall, dear readers, and early blog post that encouraged you, that if you want to go, you set a date and work toward it diligently. What is holding you back? YOU.) He asked as so many do ‘about how much does one of these go for?’, and we talked about it. Not as much apparently as he thought it might cost, although I wasn’t fair when I told him what we paid for it, and didn’t include what we’ve put into it… It has still been an excellent value. He said he’d be in touch after checking out the website, and I offered that we’d probably be selling Bussie when we were done with our trip- so we’ll stay in touch.

Yes, we were there. An excuse to get a shot of this big change in appearance for Trevor, at his own request. Now, with aviator glasses and short hair behind the wheel of the white van, he could pass for a military UFO investigator.

This sunny Sunday morning, we’re sitting about 4 miles North of Marfa at a roadside table: trash can, covered picnic table and brass marker to point out the mountain tops visible across this flat flat plain of West Texas. We have visions of warm Padre Island- but first: the mysterious Marfa Lights.