So there I was, crying in a series of caves outside of Benson, Arizona.
Hmm. Let’s start a little earlier than that.
Things I was excited for when we set out for our adventure: sandy beaches. Warm beaches. Warm ocean water. Beaches with margaritas. Walking barefoot on beaches. Swimming. Lying in hot springs watching the stars.
The theme? Warm water, warm beaches.
Our journey has been about seeing the US though – and, well, have you taken a look at a map of the continental US of A? There’s a moderate amount of coastal land. But there’s a bunch more of non-coastal land. And in Arizona? Well, I think you get it. I have to see a lot of land on this trip. So, we found ourselves in Benson, Arizona. It’s about an hour outside of Tucson and all the restaurants close at 7pm.
And now, for a long-winded rave
One of my favorite things about this expedition so far is the ability to see things we would never seek out otherwise. When we planned our travels in the past, they were centered around what we could do in an approximate week, and involved one to two destinations. Cozumel, Mexico for a week. Maryland-and-DC for 10 days. San Francisco for a long weekend. Vancouver Island for five days. The underlying theme is that we could fly there, rent a car, and be at a destination with a clean hotel and restaurant options nearby. (We’ve been lucky enough to have friends in several of these places, so they showed us non-tourist things to do.) The difference between us working, living, and traveling in our Home On wheels is that we get to see all those places in between. People don’t just live in Metropolis hubs near Airports, and nature exists outside of the Top 25 Hikes in the US.
Back to the point
Okay – so where was I? Right. Benson, Arizona. A place we’d never have gone, but we’re both so glad we did. I’ve never been in a big ole cave, up until our Benson stop. Flooding, smashing darkness was what I’ve envisioned. But, when we saw a sign for “Kartchner Caverns,” we both agreed we’d go.
These gorgeous living caverns (the highest peak about 125 feet high) were discovered nine years before I was born by two college kids who were out exploring one day. Intent on maintaining the cavern’s sanctity, the two men kept their secret for years; many caves they had explored before were littered, walls covered by graffiti, or otherwise taken advantage of by humans. They wanted something different for this place. Finally, after much deliberation and discussion, they opened the caverns to the public, but not without deliberate consideration of the effects of humans on the cave system.
Reducing environmental impact
Entering into one of the Kartchner Cavern openings, we walked through several sealed passageways: the last one providing a light mist to reduce the amount of skin cells, dander, and hair that would fall off in the cavern. Jackets were rolled and tied, instead of tied around a waist so that there was no chance of them touching the edges of the cavern. Sunglasses were placed on the collars so they would not fall off heads if people peered over. If a person accidentally touches a rock, a park ranger comes through in the evening to wash the rock with collected cave water.
And then, we walked in.
Stepping into the caves felt sacred, almost religious. Special. I felt special to be there, like I, too, had a piece of the secret. Without any phones allowed, people were present – listening to the enthusiastic tour guides who shared their wealth of knowledge. The ceilings, walls, all the pieces of the cave growing shined, glittered, and dripped. At 99% humidity, you can bet things were wet! I imagined how excited the two young men here must have felt, nobody else having seen the beauty of the dripping cave, the stains of the bat guano, the absolute serenity of the silence and absolute darkness. I felt like I held a piece of this secret of this well-maintained, living cave and I was so overwhelmingly grateful that the two men had decided to share it with the public. Towards the end of the 3 hours we spent in the caverns, we sat down and music played while we viewed the largest column in the cave system.
Next to me, a woman spoke, “I’m crying, and I don’t know why,” and several of us laughed because we, too, were crying. I relate it to that of a very mystical or religious experience. Bottom line: if you have the opportunity to visit Kartchner Caverns, do it.
We got to visit some other fun places near Benson, but I will always hold Kartchner caverns in reverance. (Other fun things outside of Benson include Tombstone, and a cool town named Bisbee that is built into a mountain. Sadly, I forgot to take pictures there.)
Carlsbad, New Mexico
Two weeks after we experienced Kartchner Caverns, we found ourselves boondocking outside Carlsbad, New Mexico. Time for more caves!
Jeremiah has never wanted to lead what others consider an expected or normal life. This came to a head a month or so before we bought The HOW – around July. During that month, he traveled a lot – and we would chat each evening about things we needed to get in order before this was feasible, listing pros-and-cons, and ultimately dreaming about all the places we were going to see. We shared a list on Onenote of places we wanted to visit.
The top of the Onenote list
For Jeremiah, Carlsbad Caverns was the representation of this desire to travel, to have a less ordinary lifestyle. Aside from a few specific dates in which we need to be at specific spots, we don’t have a lot of destinations per se. Carlsbad Caverns is an outlier; arriving there held a lot of meaning for Jeremiah. So, on a Sunday morning, we entered into the Carlsbad Cave system – lordy lordy this thing is huge – and exited 5 hours later.
What lies beneath
This cave system is a foreign feeling: an alien world. A winding downward path of about a mile took us far underground from the desert environment we knew: 750 below ground to be exact. Memories of Fraggle Rock crept in, and I imagined Mowgli to be hiding out, sleeping in a crevice. (I never did see her, but I’m not convinced she wasn’t there.) Stalagmites and stalactites, flowstone, and icicle-like rocks created formations that didn’t make sense. From the small tendrils to building-high columns, the millions-years old rock resembled a different planet. Cooler than Kartchner by about 20 degrees F, Carlsbad is immense. Water pooled so enticingly that I wanted to dip my hands in them – don’t worry, neither of us did, but seriously the clarity would have made Narcissus jealous.
We are not, in fact, spending Christmas in a cave. Instead, we’re – you may have guessed it – on a warm, beautiful beach in Texas. But, I’ll leave that for another blog.
Tips: If you do not have friends in an area, ask the locals of one of the places you are visiting. (We have had incredible advice given to us from owners of an ice cream parlor in Victoria, bartenders and taxi drivers in Mexico, and Uber drivers in DC, and a park ranger in Carlsbad.) If you are visiting Kartchner Caverns, try to visit in winter. One-half of the caverns are totally closed off for 6 months each year so that bats can roost to reduce the effects that humans have.