We drove from Marfa, TX up through some desolate countryside – beautiful, but remote. We were still in the Chihuahuan Desert, but this region seemed even drier and dustier than other areas we’d driven through. Culberson County, TX was our lunch destination. This was a miscalculation. The whole county – which is 3,812 square miles (much larger than the state of Delaware) – has a population of 2,398 people. We were taken aback by lack of services in their largest town, Van Horn. Most of the town was empty storefronts. We found only one restaurant open on a Saturday afternoon, so the choice of where to eat was made for us. Never did see a grocery store. We saw several shuttered gas stations before finding one open. From my map it appeared to be over 100 miles driving north to the next town with services, so we were relieved to find a place to fill up.
Our destination was Guadalupe Mountains National Park campgrounds, site of the highest mountain in TX at 8,751 feet. Not surprisingly, this is a remote place with few campsites and modest park services. We chose a lovely campsite with great views, but alas, a very long way from the bathrooms! We enjoyed our 2 days at Guadalupe – hiking, visiting Frijole Ranch, and attending an excellent talk (about predators of the desert) at the Visitor Center.
Next came Carlsbad Caverns National Park, just down the road in NM. We walked through its natural entrance and then an hour down 750’ into the caverns. We strolled through the Big Room (the size of 14 football fields). The size of the cave and complexity of the formations in the Big Room is nothing short of spectacular.
Time for lunch, and we were definitely hungry. Carlsbad offers possibly the worst food and service of any national park that we’ve visited – and we don’t say this lightly. This was a tricky park to visit. There is no campground at the park, and it’s in a remote location. Reservations are required to access quite a few of the areas, and it appeared that a number of folks didn’t realize this after making the long drive to get there. The two days we were at Carlsbad, they were already sold out. We were lucky that friends had told us a month before our visit about the reservation requirement, and we did get tickets for two tours. (You do not need reservations for the self-guided tour of the Big Room and the walk in or out of the Cavern.)
Again, for us, Carlsbad was hit or miss. We did two tours: King’s Palace and Left Hand Tunnel. Both were impressive areas, but, as we experienced the tours, one ranger talked down to the group while the other ranger did not. That’s kind of how it was with Carlsbad. Both however did endeavor to educate us about the reasons to conserve this unique and precious public resource.
We love the National Parks and have visited quite a few. The caverns were wonderful to see at Carlsbad, but we think there’s room for improvement at this Park.