We started day 2 early. All of the kids in both cabins were up early despite not sleeping much the night before. Amber cooked us a hearty breakfast of eggs, pancakes and bacon and we all chowed down. Wesley drank his coffee (really Swiss Miss with tiny marshmallows). Today is the day that we go on our tours of the cave.
Amy and Jason went first leaving Gracie and Emmett with Amber and I. They drove down to the park, rode the elevator down to the lunch room inside the cave and started their ranger guided tour of Left Hand Tunnel. Their tour was about two hours long and given by old time lantern giving it a bit of the feel of the early exploration. Meanwhile at the campground Wesley and Gracie and I played at the playground while Emmett and Jillian slept and Amber did dishes. The kids had a good time on the see-saw and especially “under doggies” on the swings.
Shortly before lunch we packed up the kids in Amy and Jason’s minivan (side note: Amber now wants a minivan so she can carry the kids, their friends and relatives, plus everything they have ever owned) and drove down to the park. We met for lunch (side note number two: both Amy and Amber dislike sandwiches) at the site of the interpretive center, which had it not been closed for construction might have been worth a visit. Afterward Jason and Amy took the kids back to camp and Amber and I descended the 754ft down the elevator to go on our tour.
We had signed up for the Lower Cave tour, also ranger guided (many thanks to our guides Rob and Andy). Our tour was four hours long, required batteries for LED lanterns mounted on our hard hats and gloves for the rope and ladders we would need to descend and ascend. After a pretty thorough safety session we put on our hats and helmets and headed out into the Big Room. From there we stepped off the trail and walked down a slick slope using a knotted rope to keep us from sliding into the hole at the bottom. From the trail it really doesn’t look like much and in fact it took them several decades to find this route into Lower Cave which previously required a rope descent. Once we got down from the rope (pretty easy really and not really necessary if you didn’t mind doing a little sliding on your butt) we got ready to descend three ladders.
The first ladder was only a few rungs long, but it was wet and slippery, in a fairly tight opening, vertical, and didn’t offer much of a view of what you were doing. It made me a little nervous, but then I’m afraid of hitting the ground after falling from high up places. From the first ladder you step onto a slippery little platform made of the same material as plastic cutting boards and onto a longer second ladder. Backing down that you get onto the third longest ladder which is actually the easiest despite have a change in direction in the middle. The photos don’t really do it justice. From on the ladder it seems much steeper and more precarious than the photos make it seem. Apparently it is not uncommon for people to quit when they see the ladders, even before they enter the cave.
The tour was, well, amazing and Amber was exceptional. I had concerns initially about the ladders, but she was awesome. And when she got down into the cave I think she really had a great time. She asked a ton of questions and we got a lot more information out of the tour than we would have had she not been there to ask them. I’m so glad she came with and that she had a good time. Lower Cave isn’t the most spectacular of the caves, but it does offer perhaps the best combination of “adventure tour” and sight seeing. While the cave is large it doesn’t have enormous open spaces like the Big Room so photographing it was much easier.
We were led along the path which is marked with two kinds of tape. Solid orange marks the trail while alternating white and orange stripe tape indicates very sensitive areas (often inside the trail). To prevent the trail from widening (think of the way hiking trails get wider over time) we were not to step on the orange tape and to consider it out of bounds. We saw most of the cave formations that are found at Carlsbad including stalagmites, stalactites, draperies, cave popcorn and cave pearls. Apparently cave pearls are uncommon though the were abundant and often quite large in Lower Cave.
During the middle of our tour we did a fairly long lights out where we all sat down in one of the smaller rooms and turned off all our lights. This is as dark as it gets. No light at all. Almost perfectly quiet except for the occasional drops of water at a distance. I’ve never been in dark that was that dark. You couldn’t see a thing, it almost didn’t seem worth keeping your eyes open. I was impressed. Some people seemed disconcerted, but I found it rather calming.
The whole experience was wonderful. We saw so many beautiful, unusual things that I can’t really describe them. Maybe if I were a better writer I could do them some justice, but somehow I think you really have to see to understand. I was sad to have it be over, though my eyes were glad to have the extra light as I was getting a bit of a headache. I’d recommend that if you are going to Carlsbad to reserve every tour you can. They are worth every penny. If you have to do just one (like us), I highly recommend this one.