Exploring Carlsbad Caverns National Park

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Carlsbad Caverns National Park in Carlsbad, New Mexico has always been a must-see location ever since I began traveling.

I remember when I was a teenager how I always thought Carlsbad Caverns was located in Carlsbad, CA a little over a 1-hour drive from where I live.  Not 1-hour north of Texas as I came to realize.  I thought it was your typical cave to briefly explore and be wowed.

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After spending the previous day exploring the well-known White Sands National Park 4-hours away, my crew and I began our drive as the sun set over the New Mexico desert.  We had originally planned to camp at White Sands before learning that all of the camping sites had been reserved earlier in the day.  For those who asking if you can camp at Carlsbad Caverns National Park the answer is no.  Most National Parks have the nearby campground where you can set-up your home for the night, however not here so you are better staying at the nearby RV Park if spots are available. Don’t forget to see the nearby staff buildings that were completed around the 1930’s.

The park opens daily at 8:00 AM with varying closing hours depending on the time of the year you visit.  The Visitor Center prepares you for what to see and what to expect on your hike down to the bottom of the cavern.  Did I mention that the bottom of the cavern is 75-stories below the surface?  Be prepared.  Bring water, light snacks and comfortable shoes for the hike. If you’re not able to physically do the 1.25 mile hike there is an elevator in the Visitor Center that takes you to the bottom.  This is your last opportunity to use the restrooms before reaching the bottom of the caverns, so please take note.

Natural Entrance

Entering through the natural entrance is a steep and narrow walkway that passes through the bat cave into the beginning of the caverns.  Depending on the time of the day, you will have the opportunity to witness the bats fly in and out of the cave directly above you.  No need to worry, it’s quite safe!

Exploring the caverns 

Ascending into the caverns, the route is highlighted with the Devil’s Spring, Green Lake Overlook and The Boneyard.  The cavern at anytime can be filled with tourists, so please allow for extra time if you’re like me and looking to capture images.

There is nothing like the Big Room once you reach it!  One of the largest chambers in the world, the Big Room is the must-see while at Carlsbad Caverns. Roughly the size of 6 football fields, the circular-route passes through multiple famous formations including the Bottomless Pit, Rock of Ages and Painted Grotto.  Due to its lengthy size, there is a shortcut midway into the Big Room to take you break to the break room/restrooms/elevators.

Photography Tips

If you’re looking to capture lasting images of the caverns, make sure that you bring with a suitable camera with the proper lens(s).  The caverns are very dark with not a great selection of natural light.  I had to use a high ISO with a 15-20 second exposure in some locations of the caverns to really bring out all the colors.  I recommend bringing with you a wide angle lens, please leave expensive zoom glass in your car it will not be needed.  I use a camera that is nowhere near new anymore but have learned how to set-up to produce the images below.

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Horseshoe Bend

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By: Robert Fayette – March 29, 2017

Arizona is primarily known for it’s vast desert, professional sports teams and the Grand Canyon National Park.

Horseshoe Bend is a natural wonder carved out over a million years by the Colorado River as it’s way down the Grand Canyon.  The sweeping panoramic views from the outlook 1,100 feet above the Colorado River are for travelers of all ages and fitness levels.

Getting To Horseshoe Bend:

Horseshoe Bend is located south of Page, Arizona.  From Page, head south on Highway 89 for 5.1 miles.  Coming south towards Page, turn left into the dirt parking lot once you see the sign for Horseshoe Bend Overlook sign.

The conditions at Horseshoe Bend can be very dry and warm depending on the time of year.  Before departing your vehicle, it is recommended to wear proper footwear and bring along an adequate amount of water for the hike.  The trail departs from the parking lot uphill for several minutes until you reach the gazebo halfway to the overlook.  The remainder of the trail is downhill quickly providing views of the canyon.

Depending on the time of day, the overlook can be very busy with foot traffic coming and going.  If you’re looking to avoid large crowds and warm weather in the summer, it is recommended to visit the overlook early in the morning.  Afternoon is the ideal time for capturing the overlook as the sun sets.

There are plenty of areas along the overlook to view Horseshoe Bend, but please remember that there are no railings along the end of the cliff.

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Heading downhill from the gazebo to the outlook.

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Oak Alley Plantation, New Orleans Best Kept Secret

 

New Orleans is well-known for it’s culture and legendary traditions most notably, Mardi Gras.  The nightly strolls up and back down Bourbon Street for cheap alcoholic beverages.  The morning demands for beignets at Cafe du Monde.  The search for the best and local seafood that the Gulf Coast has to offer.  Yes, those are all the frequently visited tourist locations through-out the city.  What about the best kept secrets about New Orleans worth visiting?

1-hour West of New Orleans on the West bank of the Mississippi River, history combines culture and natural beauty at the legendary Oak Alley Plantation.  Completed in 1839 by owner Jacques Roman, the US Historical Landmark has undergone multiple chapters and owners as a sugar plantation in its early years to an abandoned investment property.

300-year old oak tree alley

Long before the big house was built on the site, an alley created by a double row of 28 southern live oak trees over 800-feet tall planted in the 1800’s only feet from the man-made levee protecting the plantation from the Mississippi River.

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(The Alley from the 2nd floor balcony of the Big House)

Gray Line Tours offer guided tours of Big House and a narrated motor coach transportation departing daily from the Lighthouse ticket office in the French Quarter at Toulouse and the Mississippi at Steamboat Natchez Dock.  The 40-minute guided tour of the Greek-Revival architecture Big House takes guest through-out the spacious mansion’s two stories.  The well versed tour guides provide their guests with a vast knowledge of the plantations early beginnings with the Roman family that nearly bankrupt the plantation and it’s final owners, the Stewart family who were the last to live in residence.

Tours depart daily at 12:00 noon for the 5-hour tour (travel time included) to and from Oak Alley Plantation.  Due to its growing popularity, tickets are recommended to be purchased in advance.

Ticket Prices:

Adult: $63.00
Child: $31.00 (ages 6-12)
Group: $56.75

Gray Line Website:

http://www.graylineneworleans.com/all/tours/oak-alley-plantation

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Valley of Fire – Nevada’s Oldest State Park

Valley of Fire is Nevada’s largest and oldest state park, dedicated in 1935.  The park is located approximately 58 miles Northeast of the Las Vegas Strip in the Mojave Desert.

Deriving its name from the red Aztec sandstone and limestone mountains formed during the jurassic period over 150 million years ago.  These formations are the centerpieces of the park attractions that often can appear to be on fire when reflecting the sun’s rays.

Hiking trails are located throughout the park that allow anyone to visit the Fire Wave, White Domes and the Elephant Rock.  During the Winter and Spring seasons, the hikes are relatively easy and free of excessive heat that is consistent during the summer months.  If you’re into rock climbing and panoramic views, the park provides multiple rock formations that allow visitors to climbing options.

Valley of Fire is a popular filming location for motion pictures and automobile commercials.  Star Trek: Generations scene where Captain Kirk died and was buried.  The scenes of Mars from Total Recall.  A transition scene where the Autobots drove through the desert towards the Hoover Dam all were filmed on location within the park.

Visitor Information

Valley of Fire State Park
29450 Valley of Fire Road
Overton, Nevada 89040
Phone: 702-397-2088

Entrance Fee:  $10.00 per vehicle entering the park

Park Hours: Sunrise to sunset

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