From Albuquerque, I took 285 South, which took me through Roswell and Carlsbad. Google Maps said it would take me something like five and a half hours to get to Carlsbad Caverns, but it neglected to account for the fact that 285 is a wormhole. It's a divided road connecting ghost town to ghost town, and you can drive for ten or twenty miles without seeing another car. The signs say the speed limit is 70 mph, which is okay if you're into that, but it turns out it feels a lot better to go 95, and you get where you're going before you know it (literally). I got to the town of Carlsbad in a little over four hours -- including a stopover in Roswell for gas and aliens. Roswell gas prices are out of this world (sorry):
On the town's main street, there's a UFO "Museum and Research Center." It's a cool little tourist spot. It costs $5 to walk through museum, which is small (one room and a couple hallways, in a U-shape) and about as cheesy as you'd expect, but they've got some good exhibits.
How much "research" actually goes on there, well... which one of these guys is the PI?
When I got to Carlsbad, a little over an hour south of Roswell, it was only noon. Because it's a holiday weekend, it was hard to find a reasonably priced hotel room, plus Carlsbad itself is not exactly what you'd call a vacation destination. So I decided to pay a quick visit to the national park, then head south for a bit and spend the night in west Texas to cut down on tomorrow's driving time. I loved the view driving into the park:
Maybe I should mention the blazing heat. The temperature hovered around 100 degrees all afternoon.
These hills sort of pop up unexpectedly, out of nowhere, when you drive into the park. It's not like some of the other national parks, where the change in scenery is a little more gradual.
Be careful hanging out with cactuses. Or cacti. They're sneaky! I just barely bumped up against one and got four pricks in my foot! Getting them out hurts much more than getting stuck by them.
When I got to the cavern part of the park, and I realized it would be a wait-in-long-lines, be-shoved-around-in-big-crowds experience -- not to mention the part where you're stuck underground in paralyzing claustrophobia, with a possibility of bats and a guarantee of screaming babies -- I said, "let's not and say we did." So I bought some postcards, snacked on an overpriced yogurt, and enjoyed the view for a little while.
Carlsbad Caverns marks my fifth national park visit in four days. Also the last of my trip.
Glad to be out of a parking lot and back on the road, I continued south on the 285 until I got to Fort Stockton, TX, where I decided to stop for the night. This meant I got to share a farm road with shirtless men in ballcaps on tractors, for miles (farmers, fortunately, not pictured):
Almost as soon as I crossed the New Mexico - Texas border, it started raining out of the blue, and I saw lightning ahead. Apparently there are over a dozen counties that are under a severe thunderstorm watch tonight, with a possibility of golf-ball sized hail. What?! I somehow managed to drive around the storm rather than into it, but I did watch the temperature drop by 30 degrees, from triple digits (check out the picture) to a chilly 70 (ha!).
Tomorrow, I'm headed for Austin, where I'll be spending three nights. While the first leg of this trip has felt like vacation (I mean it has been) my stop in Austin is meant for visiting UT's campus, chatting with students and professors in the Arabic program, and doing some preliminary apartment recon. There will be some fun mixed in there somewhere. And my dad is flying down to hang out and help! :)