After our adventures in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, we moved just 30 minutes up the road to Chosa Campground, which is a free campground on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land. BLM land is a great option for travelers because camping on it is often free or very inexpensive. With this type of camping, all you are usually getting is a place to park, though. This is not the place to go if you need bathrooms, electricity, water, or almost any other amenity. Since we are able to be self-sufficient in our camper for a few days at a time, this is a great option for saving a little money. Chosa was just a large gravel lot that you could park in, but BLM sites can vary widely in terrain and land setting.
We chose this location because of its proximity (about 20 minutes) to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. We had reservations for a self-guided tour of the cave the next day, so we wanted to be a little closer, and the price was right. What we didn’t expect was the COLD and ICE we woke up to the next day. The day we arrived was in the 60s and sunny. When we woke up on our tour day it was in the 20s and there was freezing fog. This made for the perfect day to be underground, but before and after the cave tour was a bit uncomfortable!
The visitor center at Carlsbad Caverns is one of the nicest we have seen with a very large gift shop, a restaurant, and lots of exhibits explaining what you are about to see in the cave and how it was formed. We recommend taking your time in the exhibit area and really learning about the cave. It will make your tour that much more meaningful when you are underground.
As for the tour itself, all I can say is WOW! We hadn’t been all that excited about this visit because we have toured several other caves before and we didn’t think it would be much different, but figured we were already in the area, it wasn’t going to cost much to do it, and it would be another National Park we could check off our list. Boy, were we wrong about this one. This cave is SPECTACULAR. The cave formations (stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, pillars, popcorn, etc.) are way more impressive than any other cave we have ever been in.
When you visit Carlsbad Caverns for a self-guided tour, you have the choice of riding the elevator down into The Big Room, or you can hike down The Natural Entrance. The Natural Entrance hike is 1.25 miles and loses 700 feet of elevation, so it is steep, but it also allows you to see more of the cave. This is what we chose to do. We saw some people going back out that way, too, but our lazy behinds took the elevator back up. We were concerned we would not enjoy being on a self-guided tour as much as a guided tour, but this surprised us, too. We liked being able to take our time and really see all the sights and absorb what we were seeing. This way we didn’t feel rushed in any way and could spend longer on the things that interested us, and pass the things that didn’t a little more quickly.
Once our time in the cave was over, we re-emerged into the frozen world hoping that the weather had improved. It had not. If anything, it had gotten worse, so we headed back to the camper to relax in the heat for the rest of the day. The next morning, when we stepped out of the camper, we both almost busted our rear-ends because so much ice had fallen over night that the gravel we were parked on was a solid sheet. A quick look at the weather showed that the area was only in for more, so after finding the road mostly wet, we headed off to find better weather and maybe some electricity to run a space heater! Paying for amenities isn’t all bad…
Until next time!