Big room @ Carlsbad Caverns

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Me with Anu & her parents

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Grand Chandelier's in the Big Room @ Carlsbad Caverns

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Temple of Sun - Big Room, Carlsbad Caverns

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The twin done & the giant - these are some of the largest structures in the caverns

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Big Room - Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

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Exploring Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

The last few weeks was very hectic and i was really looking forward to the Christmas long weekend. After much deliberation i decided to drive down to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico. This place has been in my 'To Visit' list for a while. It's a fairly long drive, around 550 miles one-way from Dallas. Due to my hectic schedule I didn't have much time to plan for this trip. The day before the trip i booked us into a hotel in Carlsbad city. We started driving on Friday aftn and reached Carlsbad, NM around mid-night after a 9hr drive. Carlsbad city is about 28 miles from the caverns and is the nearest city. We had this as our base for this visit. I was accompanied by my wife Anu and my in-laws for this trip.

We started a little late on day 2 and reached caverns around Noon. There are 2 major tours in the caverns, First one is a self guided tour of the big room which is one of the largest cavern rooms in the world the second one is a ranger guided tour to a set of rooms called Kings Palace. We decided to do start off with the big room tour. The big room can be accessed by a mile long hike down the natural entrance of the cavern or alternatively thru an elevator ride. The choice was easy, we chose to hike down. The climb down was fairly steep and the first part of the cave had few formations. Towards the end of the hike is when you start seeing a lot of formations. We passed through devils spring, witch's finger and iceberg rock(200k ton rock that broke loose from the cave ceiling thousands of yrs back!!), Bone yard on the way down. The end of the hike puts you in the big room. One thing that struck me about this cavern was its enormity. Right from the entrance, to whole way down & of course the big room was unbelievably huge. NPS has done amazing work with the lighting and had kept it close to natural. It really accentuated some of the formations in the caverns.

The big room is a very large room with a square footage of around 8.2 acres, You could fit around 14 football fields into this room!! This room had tons of gigantic formations. We saw various different types of formations like stalagtites, stalagmites, columns, Soda straws, drapes, mushrooms, dams etc.. Some of the key structures we saw are The giants, Temple of Sun, Grand chandalier, Lion Tail, Bottomless pit, Mirror lake etc. We took around 2.5-3hrs to tour this place. There is a huge lunch room/visitor cente in one corner of the big room. Here you could eat in the restaurant at 750ft below ground level !!!

On Day 3 we accidentally bumped into one of my old friends Deepak & his wife Priya. It was a big surprise as this place is very remote and is one of the last places i would've expected to meet a friend. Anu and I hiked down the natural entrance again with Deepak & Priya. All of us went for the Kings Palace tour. This is one of the most ornate rooms in the whole caverns. This was a ranger guided tour. It was a very different experience, All the lights were turned off and each of us carried a lantern to give us a flavor of how the initial explorers experienced the caverns. There was one point in the tour we were asked to turn off all the lanterns to give us a feel of the darkness. It was so pitch dark and we couldn't see our hands placed 1 inch from the face!! On completion of the tour we did some more sight-seeing of the big room to finish the day.

On the final day of our tour we decided to go for a short scenic desert loop near Carlsbad caverns. The drive was on unpaved road and you could see lot of desert vegetation & wild life along the way. We sighted couple of musk deer & few birds during the drive. On completion of the drive we headed to Guadalupe mountains national park. This is about 35 miles south of the caverns. The drive was across a vast stretch of desolate land with no civilization. Guadalupe mountains national park is one of the least developed of the national parks. The best way to see the park is by hiking. There are very few roads in the park. We did a short hike(2.5 miles) at smith springs trial in the Frijole ranch. The hike was very scenic and provided a great view. We were able to see almost up to 50+ miles. The park also hosts the highest point in Texas - Guadalupe peak at some 87xx ft. I had done this hike couple of yrs back.

All good things come to an end :-( . We started the long drive back to Dallas around 5pm and reached home around 2am in the morning. Overall this has been a wonderful trip. We really enjoyed the sights & scenery of both Carlsbad caverns and Guadalupe national park. If you like solitude and you want to get away from the maddening crowds, nothing to beat western Texas & new Mexico in the continental US !!!


Hiking the Grand Canyon !!

Pls find below a short write up on my dream hike to Grand Canyon few days back..

After 4 yrs of waiting finally i got a chance to hike the grand canyon this year.. One of my friends was planning a rim-rim hike between oct 13th and Oct 16th.. As soon as i knew this i jumped at it and confirmed my participation. For those who haven't heard about Grand canyon, this is the biggest canyon in the world. The canyon was carved by Colorado river and at the widest point the it is 16 miles wide. It looks really massive and impressive. You need to see it to realize its enormity and beauty.

GC rim-rim is one of the top day hikes in the world and is a very tough one.It is a 21 mile(34km) hike. You need to descend around 5000 ft from south rim to the Colorado river and climb up 6400ft to the north rim.. The unique nature of the hike that differentiates it from other hikes is you ascend first before descending in a regular hike, here you descend first and then ascend. That makes this hike even more tougher bcos the descend is pretty steep and by the time you descend your legs/knees get tired.. We took a trail called Kaibab trail for the hike. We descended thru the south kaibab trail (7miles from south rim to the river) and ascended through north kaibab trail (14 miles from river to north rim).

My team for the hike included 9 members - 4 Indians and 5 Americans. Rina was our leader and she organized this hike. She, her husband Radha(Short for Radhakrishnan), myself, my friend Kaushal, Rina's neighbors Bob & Peggy, Rina's colleague Austin, his girl friend Courtney and Rick(from New Zealand) completed our group. Most of my group was doing a round trip hike (south to north and back). Only myself and Kaushal were doing a one way hike from South to North rim and we were planning to drive back from North rim. In order for us to do this we had to drop our car in north rim before the hike.

On the weekend eve of the hike all of us flew into Phoenix airport and assembled at Flagstaff(2.5hrs from Phoenix). On Saturday 13rd we drove to GC south rim and from there myself and Rina drove in 2 cars to North rim. We dropped Rina's car in North Rim and drove back to south rim on my car. The drive from south to North rim is around 230 miles and around 4 - 4.5hrs.. On the way back i smoked the roads and made it back in little over 3hrs!!! We assembled back in the south rim for dinner around 7pm and hit the bed early (by 10pm). We were staying in the Yavapai lodge in south rim for the night.

The day of hike we were up by around 3:30am and we drove to the trial head and assembled there. The South kaibab trail head was around 74xx ft in height. Once all of us were in we started the hike at 4:30am. It was still very dark when we started the hike.. The night sky was cloudless and starry. It looked beautiful. The sunrise in the canyon was amazing. The early morning sun accentuated the reddish color of the canyon. Bob was leading the group and i was pulling up the rear. It is around 7 miles from the south rim to Colorado river. We made pretty good pace on the way down. We stopped at couple of places for around 15-20 minutes for rest and reached the river around 8am. We had to hike by the side of the river for around 3/4th of a mile to reach phantom ranch. This was a small lodge with multiple cottages established in 1920's. We stopped at phantom ranch for around 45 minutes and had breakfast. The view of the canyon from river level was very different and it was beautiful. The river is the lowest point of the hike at around 2400ft.

We left the lodge and hiked the next stretch to cottonwood campground -7 miles from Phantom ranch and it is the 14 mile mark from south rim. This portion of the hike was flat to slightly up. We gain about 1600 foot of elevation in this stretch. For most part we hike alongside a small creek with towering rock walls on either side. The stretch was very scenic like most parts of the canyon. We made pretty good pace in this stretch as well and covered this in little under 3 hrs. We made couple of 15-20 minute stops enroute. We reached the cottonwood campground around 12 noon. We rested there for around 45 minutes and had some energy bars, filled up water and started for the last stretch..

The last stretch between cottonwood campground and North rim is around 7 miles. This is the toughest part of the hike where we ascend around 4800ft. As soon as the trail leaves the campground it starts climbing and it remains that way for most part. There are very few flat/down runs in this stretch. Rest of the group hiked pretty fast in this stretch and they went ahead. Myself and Kaushal were pretty slow on this stretch. I started having cramps in both my legs as soon as we started to ascend. I had some electrolyte replacements and continued in a slow pace. Since most portions of this hike was exposed the sun was beating down on us making us sweat more and tiring us quicker. We made innumerable stops in this stretch and just managed to keep going. We had almost two dozen hikers pass by. We made decent pace in the first half of this stretch. We reached the halfway mark a little after 3pm.. However we really slowed down after that the next 3 miles took us around 3+ hrs. The last mile was the longest. We were so tired that we found it very tough to carry on. By this time the sun had set and it was dark. we covered the last 30 minutes with flash lights.. Finally little after 6:30pm we reached the top and our mission was accomplished. It took us 14hrs to complete this marathon hike.

I was totally drained after the hike and had a really bad body ache. As soon as i came back i took a shower grabbed some quick dinner and hit the bed. The rest of my team had done pretty good pace. The fastest was Bob(10.5 hrs) and the rest followed at regular intervals.. The next day we got up late had breakfast with the rest of the team and i left north rim around 10:15am drove back to south rim dropped off some of the stuff and headed back to phoenix.. Overall i was very happy to have completed the hike. This hike was a eye opener for me in terms of fitness. I seemed to be in bad shape.. This was the worst shape i have been in years.. One of the key take away's for me was to get back into shape..

The rest of my team continued the hike back to south rim on 16th and they completed it successfully. Bob did trail running for most part and completed in an incredible 6.5hrs!!! The rest of the team took around 10.5hrs on the way back... It felt really good to complete this hike as i was dreaming of doing this ever since i first visited Grand Canyon in 2003. It was a dream come true !!!!

Pls check out the hike pics in http://picasaweb.google.com/shogun1947


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