Road Trip USA – Day Twelve & Thirteen “Carlsbad Caverns”

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Chili vs. Chile

I ate Hatch green chile for the first time on July 13, 1998. I had moved to Albuquerque, NM in 1997, reluctant to try ‘chile.’  Being raised in the Ohio, “chili’ was something we ate on Sunday afternoons, in a pot, with beans, ground meat and crackers while watching the groundhog day Cleveland Browns almost take us to the Superbowl with my family.

As a staff nurse,  I was given (not offered as declining wasn’t an option) a green chile breakfast burrito from the Frontier Restaurant from a hospital administrators on a jet plane ride to select new hospital beds for our unit.  Feeling cornered, I politely unwrapped the shiny foil wrap and took a small bite.

It was the best thing I had ever eaten in my life – scrambled eggs, cheese, and green chile…so spicy, so good.  I could not stop thinking about that burrito. From that day forward (for almost 12 years), Quinn and I ate a breakfast burrito from the Frontier every single Sunday.  Like the many that have gone before me, and they many that will come after, an addiction was born.

The Frontier Restaurant, located on old Route 66, across from the University of New Mexico campus is a place you must visit if you go West – it is quite the operation to witness. In operation since 1971 it is open seven days a week from 5am-1am! Frontier Restaurant  Opening the doors, you may see a line a mile long that wraps and twists through the various rooms of the restaurant and will be in awe of the lightening speed service that moves everyone to green chile comas.  Not only is the chile amazing, but they sell a cinnamon bun (a.k.a. the cardiac bun or sinamon bun) that was never meant to be eaten by just one person (but trust me, you can!) and they have this mesmerizing fresh squeeze OJ machine that produces the best Orange Juice Ever.

It’s were the locals go.

There are two types chile, green or red, and it is THE condiment (some would argue a food group) in New Mexico.  Many love one or the other, and even more order ‘christmas‘ which would be both red and green chile on everything from their eggs to pizza! Each Fall, New Mexicans enjoy the constant aroma of roasting chiles outside, 24/7.

Today we began another day of driving to Albuquerque.  Logistically, we had to once again change out our rental vehicle to save money.  We returned our rental and picked up a new one.  When you pick up and return your rental vehicle at the same location it is always less expensive.  We changed vehicles a total of three times on this road trip.

Immediately after the rental car exchange we headed to the Frontier! After our fix, we began our drive to Southern New Mexico to take the kids to Carlsbad Caverns.  This drive was a long one – New Mexico does not offer the same land features as other drives we experienced – it was flat, open and much of the same – with not much to do between destinations.

Carlsbad Caverns is a magical place in Southern New Mexico that has over 100 caves for exploration.  In addition, each evening there is an evening bat flight program. Carlsbad Caverns We planned our trip to arrive in Carlsbad to catch the nightly bat program and then return the following day to explore the caves.

The bat flight program is a free event that takes place from May-October each year.  A park ranger conducts a talk on bats and describes what to expect at the sun set – hundreds of thousands of bats emerge from their slumber to a night of feasting. While it is difficult to provide an exact number, estimates have ranged from 300,000-400,00 bats. The mass exit takes between 45-60 minutes.  The caves are migratory homes to the Mexican free-tail bats.

We sat in an outdoor amphitheater right outside the cave entrance and waited with hundreds of other vistors hoping the evening would provide the conditions that would entice the bats from the darkness. After an educational session, questions and strict viewing instructions we waited…and, then a few dark flutters emerged! We sat in awe of what felt like an unending cloud of bats that flew right over our heads and out into the night sky.  Magical experience.

The next day, we woke up and returned to the Caverns and participate in a self-guided tour. Quinn and I had been there before and remembered it being an amazing experience, but crowded.  Today, we hit the jackpot!  As we began our descent into the cave, we discovered we were almost ALONE.  Aside from maybe two other families, we had this amazing cavern to ourselves!  It was eery, quiet, mystical…perfect.

We had planned on staying 1-2 hours and ended up leaving over 4 hours later.  We just took indulgent time and the kids loved it.  My oldest ran out of camera space!  Talk about a field trip!  Here they were seeing firsthand stalactites, stalagmites and columns.

At the conclusion of the tour, we took the elevator back to the surface and visited the gift shop for souvenir shopping. Once again, entrance to this park was free with our 4th grader National Park Pass. 4th Grader Park Pass

We headed back to our hotel and went to sleep for the final night of our vacation.  Tomorrow we would head back to Albuquerque to stay with our old neighbors, Sherry and Tom.  We planned to visit friends and places with the kids and enjoy a day of reconnecting and reminiscing.  So hard to believe our two weeks was coming to an end…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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