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Change of Seasons

Wednesday, 19 March 2003
written by Teresa

Yucca Flower Getting the shorts and sun-cream out is a sure fire way of scaring the spring back into the folds of winter. For two weeks the temperatures have been in the seventies and eighties, the skies have been clear except for a few drops of rain that have helped the wild flowers into bloom. The desert looks comparatively green as the new growth pushes up beneath last years dried stalks. The enormous flower stems of the yucca thrust skyward initially pink and swollen before exploding into dense red-tinged cream blossom attracting bees and other pollinators. Smaller less demonstrative flowers huddle against the earth, compact in size, vociferous in colour against the dried white earth.

I of course have been completely fooled by this act, have already put the winter coats away and have been settling in for a long summer. This morning we woke to snow. Snow on the camper Not just any old snow but driving horizontal snow coming in on the back of thirty mile an hour winds. My shorts are back in the cupboard and the legs are back under wraps. Sterling purports to enjoy these dramatic changes and astutely observes that I seem putout if not actually angered by it. I have to confess that it feels a little like the taunting promise of a sunny English day that begins with a cloudless sky and an inviting warmth only to deteriorate before the clock has reached time for elevenses.

Admittedly we've left the plains and come into the foothills of the Guadalupe Mountains and it is true that the snow didn't last, but the wind is still howling and the temperature hasn't topped fifty today. Yesterday, head winds of up to sixty-five miles an hour kept the truck in fourth gear even on the perfectly flat road out of New Mexico into Texas and the best we could manage with the accelerator on the floor, was sixty.

Our last stop before leaving New Mexico for a few days was at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. We have been in a number of caves over the last few months but this is in a league of it's own. For sheer size, beauty and variety of both rooms and speleothems, this takes the biscuit. There is a path from the natural entrance down to the main cave level some seven hundred and fifty feet below and unlike all other caves we have visited, the park service lets you loose on self guided tours. The walkways are paved but in spite of this there is a real sense of wandering through these huge caves, of being right in amongst the formations. The Chandelier It truly fires the imagination of a Nether World and thoughts of gnomes, dwarfs and hobgoblins busily going about their business just out of sight of all the tourists. In the distance we could hear what sounded remarkably like a vacuum cleaner and tales of the little folk cleaning up after making another stalactite or column were on our lips when we came upon a small man vacuuming the path. He was a friendly chap and didn't seem to mind stopping his arduous task for a minute to answer my questions. The upshot of the story is that it takes two months to clean the entire path around the cave and then they start again. Now that's some serious cleaning. I'll never complain about my housewifely duties again.

The cave is famous for its bats but unfortunately we were too early for them. The Mexican Free-tailed bats arrive from Mexico in their hundreds of thousands and use Bat cave as a maternity roost. At night they leave the cave to feed and the exodus can take anything from twenty minutes to two and a half hours. We will definitely return at some point to see these remarkable flying mammals.

The Caveteria No description of Carlsbad Caverns can be complete without mentioning the café. Before you're allowed on a self-guided tour, a ranger at the entrance gives a short verbal orientation. You know the sort of thing. Don't touch anything. Don't make a lot of noise. Don't go off the path. And most importantly, don't eat anything, not a morsel because the smell will attract animals into the cave and they can't get out. Sounds fair enough until you get down to the biggest embarrassment the park service is trying to play down, the Caveteria, serving burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches and various other grotesque looking snacks. You have to understand that this is not in some hermetically sealed area of the cave but smack in the middle of an area devoted to consumption on a massive scale. We knew of this phenomenon from an NPR item on the conflict between the NPS who want to get rid of it and Congress who for some inexplicable reason continue to allocate specific funds to it each year. Even with the expectation, the reality was too much for Sterling who could not stop laughing, taking photos and insisting that we eat something. While the warm chocolate chip cookie was nowhere near as good as the ones Sterling makes, they were probably the least offensive item on offer.

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