Day 2:
Got out of bed at 7am and proceeded to head back to Denny's for breakfast. This time, the service was excellent and everybody was revved for our private tour of Carlsbad Caverns. Having never been to the caverns before, I wasn't quite sure what to expect in terms of size and scale, but upon arriving I was blown away in nearly every respect. After meeting with the ranger who was our guide and getting our helmets, we all got on the service elevator and went down into the earth approximately 750 feet. After taking the normal trail for awhile, we were led through a gate and climbed down a slight slope before climbing down a series of ladders approximately 40 more feet to an even lower level. This last climb down metal ladders did a number on my fear of heights, but I managed to make it down fairly well.

From this point, we did a series of underground loops in the Lower Cave, passing through many different rooms of all kinds of shapes and sizes. We saw stalagtites, stalagmites, columns, aragonite, helectites, petified bats, and some active formations. Every time I stepped into another room and shone my headlamp around the walls and ceiling, I was amazed at the immensity of it all and how long it must have taken to form (answer: millions and millions of years).

Once we got to a rather inner part of the lower cave, we all sat down and turned out all our lights for about 20 minutes. After about 10 minutes or so of complete darkness, your body seemingly can't take the sensory deprivition any longer and your eyes start concocting images and your ears ring from the silence. It's a strange feeling, but if you ever had to have a place to reach a Zen moment, it would be perfect.

After the exclusive tour was over, we all went back down into the cave through the natural entrance and walked the normal tour (pictures 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5). It was mind-boggling to think of how it must have been for the first people exploring the cave, wondering how large each room was when they couldn't see the walls or ceiling due to insufficient light and dangling by rickety ladders and ropes over 200 foot (or more) drops. The largest room in the cave (appropriately titled "The Big Room") has enough floor space to hold 30 football fields. Zowie.

After we'd finished that tour, we had some lunch 750 below the surface (including huge chefs salads and overpriced flat soda) and got back in the truck and goofed around by nearby Rattlesnake Springs. There wasn't a whole lot to do, but Mouser and I wasted time by mashing in a rather large anthill and playing in an irrigation canal. It turns out that the Springs weren't appropriately named, as we didn't see any rattlesnakes, only a few turkeys. On the way back to Carlsbad, a rather large puddle of water tempted us in the truck and Lukas ripped through it, making the truck hydroplane slightly and completely covered it in dirt.

We drove back up to Carlsbad and sat around waiting for the bats to fly. Every night around sunset, all 300,000 or so bat inhabitants of the cave fly out in a mass frenzy to get some food for the evening. When they first start trickling out, it grabs your interest, but at the peak of 5,000 bats per minute, the entrance itself seems to be moving and one can hear the slight flutter of all the small wings.

Once we couldn't really see anymore, we headed back to John's house again for the evening. Mouser and I watched a video on caves in the Carlsbad area while Lukas and Allana swam. Nichol showed up about three-quarters of the way through it, then we all went swimming before turning in at about 1am again.

Day 3