|On the way to Carlsbad Caverns|
|Closer view of the vegetation|
I've gleaned the following: sotol and lechuguilla's leaves have hooks curved back toward the base, but sotol leaves are finer with dried, light brown fibers extending far beyond the tips of their leaves. Mescal agave looks like what we call a 'century plant' in horticulture, and torrey's yucca is raised up on a brown pedestal of its previous growth, leading me to initially call it a 'joshua tree'. Yuccas (vs. agaves and sotol) don't seem to have hooks on their leaf edges. Of course, most people go to Carlsbad to see what's underground, not to do a comparative study of spiny rosettiform succulents.
|Possibly a torrey's yucca?|
|A giant fungus-like speleothem|
This family story of some early childhood cave-associated terror came to mind as I prepared to go down into the cavern. I hadn't toured a cave system since that experience, so I was curious if I would discover some forgotten fear. I am pleased to report that I enjoyed visiting the fantastic Carlsbad Caverns without incident. Some things do change.
|The big room|
Despite the lull in geologic activity, you could hear dripping water echo through the caverns. It smelled like dust and wet stone. Human odors seemed sharper for some reason. Whenever I passed someone wearing cologne, it was stronger than at the the surface. I'm not sure if the human scents were being thrown into relief by the spareness of the cave, or they were more efficiently picked up by my nose because of the 90% humidity underground.
It is astonishing to me that early explorers dropped ladders in the abyss and descended into the darkness in total ignorance of what they would find. It seems likely that this need to have a finger in every pie is a characteristic human trait.
I saw more of New Mexico than the caverns, and I will write on that shortly. Until then: have a happy New Year's Eve!
|Higher elevation desert slopes near visitor center|