Take a look at this photograph: Doesn’t it remind you of one I sent out five months ago, at the start of our drive from Istanbul to Calcutta? Here’s the earlier photo to which I’m comparing, which is of the remarkable rock formations in Cappadocia, Turkey. The first photo is from just south of Santa Fe, at Tent Rocks National Monument. Amazing, no????We certainly thought so. In fact, we were flabbergasted. To think that we could have saved all those visas, the flight time and the days of driving, just by heading to New Mexico. Tent Rocks National Monument is a pristine and lovely slot canyon near the Cochiti Pueblo and reservation, all of 45 minutes drive from Santa Fe.
Being on the canyon bed, the mile and a half walk is level and easy, though in winter the footing can get slick because there are many spots where the sun barely shines. For the couple of hours we were there, we were virtually alone. The canyon walls, though not the sandstone red of Arizona’s slot canyons, are perhaps more friendly in their paleness. They’re certainly narrow and twisty enough to satisfy that slot canyon claustrophobia.
These formations, the eroded residue of volcanic tuff, are full of fanciful shapes, all curvy and hobbity. Here and there are some twisted pines on gnarled tree roots, evidence of the flash floods that can scour the canyon in the fall. At the end of the canyon you climb a short, steep rise to look back over the “tents,” which, if I had any pull, would be called elves or gremlins.
Speaking of hobbity things, we spent a day underground at Carlsbad Caverns, too. Wow, is that sensational! I have no doubt that those who made the sci-fi and fantasy movies like the Indiana Jones series, Alien, or The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, were mimicking the Carlsbad Caverns. They’re phenomenal, even without dwarfs and even tho’ the cave spiders that dwell there are barely 1/16th of an inch long.
Unlike most caves, which are made by erosion from subterranean rivers and leaving lots of collapsed caves and rubble, the Carlsbad Caverns were made by sulphuric acid eating away at the soft limestone. The place is immense, with halls and corridors hundreds of feet high.
On our reserved tour to the Lower Cave, we actually were nearly 900 feet below ground. Yet the air was only mildly humid and still comfortably cool. Unlike the mine shafts I went into in Potosi, Bolivia, where the narrow tunnels and fetid air quickly made me nauseous, here we wandered for five hours without ill effects.
The speleotherms, such as stalagmites (which grow up from the ground) and stalagtites (those that hang from the ceiling), thin, curtainy pendants, pearl-like growths in tiny pools, popcorn crystals covering the walls, were everywhere. Many were delicate, some were huge. At one point way underground we turned off our helmet headlamps to experience the utter blackness of a place where no light can reach. It felt like black velvet.
If you’re planning some days in Santa Fe, consider devoting a half day to Tent Rocks and a day and a half to get to/from Carlsbad. Both are memorable and part of what make our grand American Southwest so extraordinary.